The Chinese are increasingly aware of environmental issues and support for action has been steadily growing. China’s fledgling green movement is responding to a host of serious concerns from the abysmal air quality in Beijing to the 750 dead pigs pulled from the Huangpu River in Shanghai in March.
There is evidence of a growing environmental consciousness in cities across China. People are becoming concerned about air and water borne pollution particularly as it impacts their health. Led by young activists, groups like university environmental clubs are campaigning to raise awareness and combat pollution.
The China Youth Climate Action Network
This group was formed in Beijing and began as a group of seven organisations which shared a desire to tackle global warming. Their primary goal is to encourage energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Chinese universities.
Clean Development Mechanism Club
This group was formed by students at Peking University. The Clean Development Mechanism club was named after a part of the Kyoto protocol. With some funding from the World Wide Fund for Nature, they were behind a project that interviewed and trained “low-carbon leaders” around the country.
Other Environmental Groups in China
- Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims
- China Carbon Forum
- China Low Carbon Forum
- Friends of Nature (China)
- Global Environmental Institute
- GMS Environment Operations Center
- Green Camel Bell
- Greenpeace East Asia
There have been recent protests in the cities of Kunming, Qidong, Shifang Ningbo, Dalian, and Guangzhou. A protest in Chengdu was quashed by security forces before it could get underway. For years now Beijing-based Friends of Nature and Greenpeace China have been protesting a “cancer village” called Xinlong.
Efforts like those in Xinlong have resulted in some progress. This includes forcing the Ministry of the Environment to crack down on illegal dumping, stopping the building of a toxic waste pipeline and closing a heavy metal processing plant.
The Chinese are protesting against things like toxic plants, processing facilities or even train lines in record numbers. These protest groups are not only made up of the very young. In response to dense smog pollution, urban middle-class citizen activists took to the streets to protest air conditions.
There has been increased press coverage of Chinese environmental issues and a number of related books. Chinese activists are using other mechanisms in addition to protests to make their voices heard. They have even begun using the courts to try to force companies to clean up toxic sites and grant compensation to victims of environmentally irresponsible corporations.
Economic growth has also impacted the environment both negatively and positively. Economic growth has increased pollution levels but it has also created an increasingly affluent middle class.
The radically improved standard of living enjoyed by millions of Chinese is even beginning to create interest in a lower impact economy. For example, in major centers like Beijing a growing health-conscious urban middle have created an emerging market for organic foods.
Environmental activism and the media are not the only mediums fostering change in China. Social media is a powerful new technology that is making it easier to share environmental information.
As explained by Ralph Litzinger:
“There is no doubt we are seeing a new form of environmental and health consciousness in China’s urban centers, especially in the eastern seaboard cities…we saw an incredible amount of knowledge being shared via social networking sites about chemical plants, long-term health effects, toxic runoff, and the shady deals city leaders have made with the companies hoping to build and expand these plants. This knowledge gets shared really fast, and protests can be mobilized in what often seems like an instant.”
The Chinese people are demanding change and this growing voice will play an ever expanding role.
As stated by Li Bo, the director of Friends of Nature, one of China’s oldest environmental NGOs, “These demonstrations are evidence of the public anger and frustration at opaque environmental management and decision-making,”
Pervasive levels of pollution and environmental abuse are being challenged by thousands of passionate activists. While these protests may not seem like a big deal by Western standards, for China they are truly revolutionary.
Grassroots activism is driving change in China and the nation’s great “opening and reform” is being enjoined by a confluence of environmental concerns.