Green Hands Up: Environmental Volunteers in Action
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.
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.
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.
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