Stu­dent trans­forms her en­vi­ron­men­tal pas­sion into ac­tion

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Depth - By HOU LIQIANG [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

With a mush­room hair­style and wear­ing round glasses and a sports shirt, Wu Guanzhuo looks like many of her fel­low se­nior high school stu­dents in China who are study­ing as hard as they can to se­cure places at univer­si­ties amid fierce com­pe­ti­tion.

How­ever, Wu stands out. At the age of 16 she al­ready has con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in­volved in en­vi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate change is­sues.

Fly­ing for a to­tal of about 30 hours from her home­town of Shenyang, cap­i­tal of Liaon­ing prov­ince, North­east China, to the Pol­ish city of Ka­tow­ice for the UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence, which ended at the week­end, is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of her en­vi­ron­men­tal en­thu­si­asm.

Wu, a grade three stu­dent from North­east Yu­cai For­eign Lan­guage School in Shenyang, said, “Sev­eral se­nior stu­dents in my school took part in the UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Bonn, Ger­many, last year. They thought that par­tic­i­pa­tion was very sig­nif­i­cant for them.

“Not only could they learn about the progress made in ne­go­ti­a­tions by join­ing the side­line events, they could also fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives made by peo­ple of vary­ing ages from other coun­tries, or the ef­forts of some NGOs in safe­guard­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.”

With only a limited knowl­edge of cli­mate change, Wu’s in­ter­est in the is­sue was trig­gered by the ter­ri­ble air qual­ity in Shenyang. “As a res­i­dent, I think I have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing to im­prove it,” she said.

Bad air qual­ity is con­nected to cli­mate change be­cause the pol­lu­tion stems from fos­sil en­ergy con­sump­tion for heat­ing in win­ter, which dis­charges a large amount of car­bon diox­ide, she said, adding, “Many see this air pol­lu­tion, but they fail to re­al­ize the high con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon diox­ide.”

Will­ing to learn some­thing new at this year’s con­fer­ence, Wu said she felt help­less af­ter hear­ing that coun­tries across the world had yet to make ad­e­quate ef­forts to ad­dress the ur­gent is­sue of cli­mate change as car­bon emis­sions con­tin­ued to in­crease.

“I read a pa­per re­cently, which said many peo­ple around the world have yet to re­al­ize that global warm­ing is tak­ing place. They don’t think it will af­fect their lives — this is a se­ri­ous is­sue,” she said, adding that she is wor­ried, as she does not see how the prob­lem can be solved.

Wu said she drew some “pos­i­tives” from Ka­tow­ice, in­clud­ing the fact that many peo­ple were now con­tribut­ing their own ideas to ad­dress cli­mate change.

As an ex­am­ple, she said a for­eign NGO had ex­hib­ited a type of brick that ab­sorbs car­bon diox­ide to help re­move this gas from the air.

Last year, Wu or­ga­nized a mock cli­mate change con­fer­ence that at­tracted about 50 stu­dents from two schools. They were sep­a­rated into three teams rep­re­sent­ing de­vel­oped coun­tries, emerg­ing na­tions, and least-de­vel­oped and is­land coun­tries.

All three groups had to speak for the coun­tries they rep­re­sented, ig­nor­ing their own na­tion­al­ity. “The stu­dents gath­ered for one hour a day and the ne­go­ti­a­tions lasted for a week, but pro­duced no re­sults,” she said.

Wu said her en­thu­si­asm for the en­vi­ron­ment is largely due to her par­ents. Her mother once worked for a gov­ern­ment body that over­sees pub­lic parks, and her fa­ther grad­u­ated from an agri­cul­tural univer­sity. “Both of them like plants very much,” she added.

A print­ing fac­tory in her home­town led to her turn­ing this pas­sion into ac­tion. Waste­water from the fac­tory was dis­charged into rivers in Shenyang, killing many fish. Af­ter turn­ing to a lawyer for help, Wu was told to col­lect ev­i­dence to pre­pare for a law­suit. She did as sug­gested.

“Two big dogs guarded the en­trance to the fac­tory. To col­lect sam­ples, my class­mates and I bought some chicken to at­tract the dogs’ at­ten­tion, so that we could en­ter,” she said.

Wu and her class­mates won the law­suit about one week af­ter the hear­ing started. The fac­tory was or­dered to close and de­cided not to ap­peal.

Af­ter the case, Wu and some of her class­mates launched a stu­dent as­so­ci­a­tion named af­ter a Chi­nese ex­pres­sion, hai yan he qing, which means “the world is at peace and the river has been cleaned”.

The as­so­ci­a­tion now has mem­bers from nearly all the schools in Shenyang, but Wu does not know the pre­cise num­ber.

“As an in­for­mal or­ga­ni­za­tion, we never take the ini­tia­tive to en­roll new mem­bers, as many choose to join vol­un­tar­ily,” she said.

“I think this sends out very good sig­nals. If you force some­one to take part in en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties, they may never un­der­stand the real sig­nif­i­cance of do­ing that. If they par­tic­i­pate will­ingly, this means they are fully aware of the sig­nif­i­cance and want to con­trib­ute,” she said.

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