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Walking the talk: Oliver Chua, 11, takes shorter showers, buys used toys, and aims to convince peers to do the same

SINGAPORE — The climate change movement around the world is being spearheaded by youths, such as 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg. TODAY speaks to Singapore's very own young climate champions.

Oliver Chua, 11, was the youngest among the six speakers at the Singapore Climate Rally on Sept 23.

Oliver Chua, 11, was the youngest among the six speakers at the Singapore Climate Rally on Sept 23.

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The climate change movement around the world is being spearheaded by youths, such as 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg. Singapore has its very own young climate champions too, including those who spoke at the inaugural Singapore Climate Rally earlier this month. TODAY speaks to three of them on how they are spreading the message on climate change. Read the other profiles here and here.

SINGAPORE — In the lead-up to his big speech at the Singapore Climate Rally on Sept 21, Oliver Chua’s parents warned him that he may encounter criticism.

“We did prep him and said after the rally that he should just walk away if anybody comes up and gives him negative comments,” said the 11-year-old’s mother Mrs Carol Chua, who is an adjunct lecturer at Republic Polytechnic.

Oliver’s parents had good reason to be worried. In the days after the rally which was held alongside global climate strikes around the world, environmental activists, especially young ones, became the target of criticism.

Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg had been criticised and mocked, including by United States President Donald Trump, following her impassioned speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Sept 23.

Meanwhile, some Facebook groups also accused the organisers of the Singapore Climate Rally of propagating underhanded “Marxist” objectives.

But Oliver told TODAY that he had been fortunate to receive positive responses to his speech at the rally.

“I felt honoured and honestly flattered (as I gave my speech) because there were so many like-minded people in the crowd and they were cheering and applauding at some points of my speech.”

In his speech, the Temasek Primary School student, who was the youngest of the six speakers, called on the public — especially the young — to take urgent action to mitigate the impact of climate change.

When asked how young activists like himself should handle criticism, Oliver said: “I think that young activists shouldn’t worry about criticism because they are doing what they think is right, and following their beliefs.”

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He had received the opportunity to speak at the rally through a contact at the Mother Earth Toastmasters club which he is a member of.

He had joined the group in December 2017 when his parents were looking for activities to keep him occupied during the school holidays.

The club holds monthly gatherings where members can give speeches related to environmental issues. It was through the group that Oliver, who was the youngest member, became more aware about environmental issues.

The doors soon opened for him to speak at events such as British bank Barclays’ staff luncheon last year, and at the Singapore Press Holdings’ Earth Day event in April this year.


Beyond the talks, Oliver has also made changes to his lifestyle such as taking shorter showers and finishing his food to avoid wasting it. He and his seven-year-old brother Elliott Chua also buy their books and toys from second-hand stores.

However, Oliver admits that it has been harder to convince his peers, whom he described as being in the “don’t know, don’t care”, or “I know but don’t know what to do” phase.

“A lot of my classmates aren’t worried about climate change because they feel that they will cross that bridge when they get to it and that it doesn’t really matter right now,” he said.

However, Oliver said he is trying to spread the message and has received support from teachers in his school.

In efforts to reduce waste, he had embarked on a project last year to collect 100 pencil cases so that they could be used by children in a Filipino village.

Oliver is repeating the project this year.


As for the future, his father, Dr Steven Chua, an executive director at design firm Kingsmen Ventures, said that he would encourage Oliver to participate in events that are meaningful and can help spread the message of saving the environment.

Dr Chua added that he hopes Oliver would “do something that is meaningful for himself, his generation and his children” when he grows up.

In the meantime, the family said they will continue to take steps to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. They already take part in food rescue events around Little India and try as much as possible to take public transport.

Oliver, however, has more practical concerns for his future.

He will be sitting for his Primary School Leaving Examination next year, and may have to cut back on his environmental activism.

He admitted that he has struggled to manage his environmental activities with his studies this year, with his teachers calling up his parents twice as he had failed to turn in his homework on time.

While his focus will be on the national examinations next year, his activism is unlikely to abate as he plans to engage in speeches and projects during the school holidays.

Related topics

environment Singapore Climate Rally Hong Lim Park climate change Oliver Chua

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