Green Hands Up: En­vi­ron­men­tal Vol­un­teers in Ac­tion

China Pictorial (English) - - Front Page - Text by Luo Jie

On April 22, the Chi­nese govern­ment launched Earth Day Week with the theme of “Trea­sur­ing Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Pro­tect­ing Beau­ti­ful Land—telling the Story of Our Earth.” Within a week, var­i­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion ac­tiv­i­ties were held in dif­fer­ent parts of China.

The 49th Earth Day fell on April 22, 2018, at which time the Chi­nese govern­ment pre­sented a se­ries of ac­tiv­i­ties to pro­mote nat­u­ral re­source preser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

Vol­un­teers across China be­came a high­light of these ac­tiv­i­ties. They cleaned up trash in com­mu­ni­ties, gave the pub­lic tips on how to live greener lives and pub­li­cized en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion ideas. Since China’s re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy was im­ple­mented forty years ago, ris­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion aware­ness has in­spired many vol­un­teers to take up the chal­lenge and be­come part of the cen­tral force pro­pel­ling the coun­try’s green cam­paign.

Ris­ing Power

Tibetan an­telopes in­habit the tun­dra at al­ti­tudes be­tween 4,000 and 5,300 me­ters on the Qing­hai-ti­bet Plateau. Ev­ery year, nearly 1,000 vol­un­teers ven­ture into the an­i­mals’ habi­tat to join pro­tec­tion work.

Since 2010, Yang Gang, a na­tive of Fuzhou, cap­i­tal of Fu­jian Prov­ince, has driven to the Sonam Dar­gye Pro­tec­tion Sta­tion in Hoh Xil, the main habi­tat of Tibetan an­telopes, ev­ery year to work for two weeks as a vol­un­teer. He per­forms clean­ing, cook­ing and tour guide work. He also drives hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters along a pa­trol line to mend fences in wild an­i­mal re­serves. Yang cov­ers all the costs him­self while lo­cals pro­vide him with sim­ple ac­com­mo­da­tion.

It takes Yang seven days to drive over 2,500 kilo­me­ters from Fuzhou to Hoh Xil. The 50-year-old at­tributes his de­vo­tion to the “mean­ing­ful” work. In Hoh Xil, Yang Gang is not alone. All the vol­un­teers en­dure hard­ships in ice and snow while brav­ing the wind and dew, help­ing fight poach­ing and il­le­gal min­ing as well as aid­ing dis­tressed an­i­mals.

Un­like Yang, the vast ma­jor­ity of China’s en­vi­ron­men­tal vol­un­teers are com­mit­ted to their own com­mu­ni­ties. They of­ten buy en­vi­ron­men­tal equip­ment, use their own money to print pub­lic­ity fly­ers, clean up trash and mon­i­tor pol­lut­ing be­hav­iors. These vol­un­teers in­clude stu­dents, white-col­lar work­ers, civil ser­vants and man­agers of pri­vate busi­nesses, and they all ded­i­cate ma­jor ef­forts to mak­ing a cleaner world.

The Chi­nese govern­ment still lacks an ac­cu­rate count of its en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion vol­un­teers. But ac­cord­ing to a doc­u­ment is­sued by the Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs in Au­gust 2017, by the end of 2016, China had over 6,000 so­cial groups en­gaged in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. “If each group has an av­er­age of 200 mem­bers, that would mean more than one mil­lion long-term en­vi­ron­men­tal vol­un­teers in China,” es­ti­mates Zhang Boju, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Friends of Na­ture, a Bei­jing­based en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Ac­cord­ing to him, most vol­un­teers come from high schools, col­leges, pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions and com­pa­nies. The groups are ei­ther gov­ern­mentspon­sored or non-gov­ern­men­tal,

work­ing to­gether to im­prove China’s ecol­ogy.

Grow­ing Pains

Over the past four decades, en­hanced aware­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion has fu­eled the rise in the num­ber of Chi­nese en­vi­ron­men­tal vol­un­teers from a few to over a mil­lion. How­ever, the grow­ing group also faces some grow­ing pains.

De­spite the big num­bers, China to­day has just a few in­flu­en­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions and most need to im­prove their ca­pa­bil­i­ties to par­tic­i­pate in en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs. And they of­ten lack pro­fes­sion­als and di­verse fund­ing sources.

Xin Hao, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Green Zhe­jiang, un­der­stands the sit­u­a­tion all too well. As the largest non-gov­ern­men­tal en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion group of Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, the 18-year-old Green Zhe­jiang em­ploys 400 peo­ple full-time and uti­lizes 100,000 vol­un­teers. Com­pared to other groups, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has many full-time staffers. “But only a few mem­bers grad­u­ated with en­vi­ron­men­tre­lated de­grees,” Xin ad­mits. “The short­age of pro­fes­sion­als makes it hard for us to pro­vide pro­fes­sional ser­vices to so­ci­ety.”

Miao Qing, a pro­fes­sor and doc­toral tu­tor with the Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion School at Zhe­jiang Univer­sity, ex­plains that en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions are “nei­ther govern­ment de­part­ments nor en­ter­prises.” Many lack sta­ble sources of fund­ing, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to em­ploy pro­fes­sion­als. Miao also be­lieves that China’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion groups still need to im­prove their pro­fes­sion­al­ism. “Many cam­paigns are im­pul­sive rather than well-planned and lack a far-reach­ing in­flu­ence,” he notes.

Ex­pected De­vel­op­ment

De­spite their flaws, China’s green or­ga­ni­za­tions have greatly pro­pelled the progress of the coun­try’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion cause. Es­pe­cially in the last five years, the Chi­nese govern­ment raised eco­log­i­cal im­prove­ment to the top of its agenda. In 2017, the re­port pre­sented to the 19th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China, an im­por­tant event map­ping the fu­ture of the coun­try, de­clared that China is work­ing on fight­ing three “crit­i­cal bat­tles,” of which pre­vent­ing and con­trol­ling pol­lu­tion is among them. This ev­i­dences the tremen­dous de­vel­op­ment space for China’s en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

On Jan­uary 26, 2017, the Chi­nese govern­ment is­sued a doc­u­ment to guide and reg­u­late the growth of green or­ga­ni­za­tions, hop­ing to help them play a more cen­tral role in eco­log­i­cal im­prove­ment. The doc­u­ment also called on the pub­lic to prac­tice en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly life­styles and pro­mote green de­vel­op­ment.

The govern­ment has also en­acted poli­cies to en­cour­age more so­cial cap­i­tal to be in­vested in the sec­tor. On May 14, 2010, Alibaba Group, China’s largest on­line re­tailer, an­nounced it would in­vest 0.3 per­cent of its an­nual earn­ings into its en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion fund, the first of its kind in the coun­try. Since then, many Chi­nese en­ter­prises have suc­ces­sively set up green funds. Alibaba Group’s 2017 in­come reached 158.2 bil­lion yuan (US$25.2 bil­lion).

“From the per­spec­tive of gov­ern­ments, the so­cial ser­vices pro­vided by vol­un­teers make up for de­fi­cien­cies of gov­ern­ments in so­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion and bring au­thor­i­ties closer to the pub­lic,” re­marks Pro­fes­sor Wei Na from the School of Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Pol­icy at Ren­min Univer­sity of China. “From the per­spec­tive of vol­un­teers, their ef­forts ben­e­fit their own com­mu­ni­ties as well as the greater cause. And in terms of fi­nan­cial re­sources, bet­ter ac­cess to so­cial cap­i­tal al­le­vi­ates the pres­sure on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion groups. As a re­sult, China’s en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

A lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal vol­un­teer picks up a plas­tic bag from a lake at an at­ti­tude of 3,200 me­ters in Qing­hai Prov­ince. VCG

Chi­nese pho­tog­ra­pher Wu Di uses his work to high­light the pol­lu­tion is­sue and alert the pub­lic to pos­si­ble health prob­lems brought by smog. This is one of his pho­to­graphic works. VCG

Vol­un­teers from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of An­hui Univer­sity per­form be­hav­ioral art ti­tled “re­venge of na­ture.” VCG

Septem­ber 15, 2017: Vol­un­teers ride bi­cy­cles in a park in Chongqing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity to pro­mote green travel and low car­bon prac­tices. by Zhou Yi/china News Ser­vice/vcg

May 14, 2017: Over 300 vol­un­teers from a dozen cities and prov­inces pick up trash at the Gaoguan wa­ter­fall scenic area in Chang’an District, Xi’an City. VCG

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