China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Green Long March

Sseattletimes Posted by Daniel Beekman

Seven decades and four years ago, a ragged pack of Chinese idealists took flight. They trekked on foot through forests, deserts and valleys, preaching a practical, convincing backwoods gospel.

Charasmatic young leaders, including Mao Zedong, emerged. Farmers listened.

Or so the legend (Long March) goes: a weakened Red Army, an unhealthy land, a suffering people...reborn.

This month, a new generation of doers will trot across China - a 'green' army of environmentally-conscious students and volunteers. They'll preach a practical, convincing gospel: faith in the Olympic spirit and conservation.

It's the 2008 'Green Long March.'

"We want a sustainable future for China," said Frances Fremont-Smith. Fremont-Smith's NGO 'Future Generations/CHINA' partnered with Beijing Forestry University to organize the GLM project. "We're encouraging local people to set lofty goals, just like the athletes. We're passing on that Olympic 'can-do' spirit."

(Note: Future Generations/CHINA is a Hong Kong registered NGO affiliated with Future Generations, a non-profit and graduate school located in West Virgina. Since 1985, Future Generations/CHINA has conducted conservation and community-building activities in China's Tibet Autonomous Region. For more information on Future Generations/CHINA, visit www.futuregenerations.org.cn.)

This month, Green Long Marchers will engage China's future generations.

Volunteers from Beijing Forestry University planted trees last year.

Environmental problems plague Chinese development.

The Green Long March is China's largest youth environmental movement.

Last year's inagural GLM engaged thousands of students from 43 Chinese universities, ranging across 22 provinces and 10 'eco-zones.' Consisting of 10 distinct 'routes,' China's largest youth conservation movement will cover 2008 kilometers in 2008.

In preparation for the march, Future Generations China and BFU carried our environmental education on Earth Day and Wolrd Environment Day. Volunteers will revisit villages surveyed last year to assess the impact of 2007's GLM. They'll also recognize outstanding 'green enterprises' within each community.

As part of another GLM program, the Future Generations China - BFU team will select representatives from 50 Chinese communities to participate in conservation and leadership training.

"Reporters tend to focus on what's broken...we like to focus on what's wokring," Fremont-Smith said. "We're trying to help these communities become models. Rather than crusade against offending factory bosses, we're highlighting 'green enterprises - enterprises working to reduce their own pollution."

In 2007, 10 sets of BFU backpackers trained, bused and walked between rallies, enlisting local university students along the way. Things are heating up in Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games - Future Generations has decentralized its project.

Hundreds of provincial volunteers will march this year, traversing routes like 'The Grand Canal' from Beijing south to Hangzhou, 'Northwestern Forests' from Harbin south to Shenyang, and 'National Treasures' through Chengdu in Sichuan province to Guizhou's Guiyang.

Future Generations/CHINA dispatched two staffers to Sichuan following May 12's devastating earthquake. Green Long Marchers will stomp through Sichuan as planned, but Fremont-Smith says her organization will expand its activities in the province to encompass disaster recovery and youth development.

(Note: Check out GLM's online route-map for 2008 here.)

They'll visit parks, malls, schools and retirement homes to mediate discussions, distribute fliers and solicit opinions on how environmental protection should move forward in China.

"Chinese youth have been inspired to protect the environment for years and years," Fremont-Smith said. "Now, using the Olympics as a platform, they're attracting support around the world.

"With the 2008 Games, there's been such a wealth of energy among young people here. Our idea was to borrow from the original Long March to harness that energy and bring China's conservationists together."

Green Long Marchers brought conservation to rural classrooms in 2007.

China introduced a plastic-bag ban early this summer.

Green Long Marchers will visit thousands of malls, schools, parks and retirement homes this year.

Tips for 'green' living.

When the International Olympic Committee awarded China its first Games in 2001, organizers in Beijing developed three 'concepts' to guide the city's preparations: 'People's Olympics,' 'Hi-tech Olympics' and 'Green Olympics.'

Infamous for smoggy skies and tainted tap water, China's capital pledged to clean up before the Games. From tree-planting to 'green' education, shuttered factories to emissions restrictions, Beijing has carried out a highly public environmental push.

Will the haze finally part for August's Opening Ceremonies? Will Beijing relapse once the Olympics are over? No one knows for sure.

(Note: Learn more about 'Green Olympics' on 'Blogging Beijing' here.)

"The Olympics have drawn attention to China's environment, that's for sure," she remarked. "It's hard assess the Games' overal effect - so much has changed in the past eight years. You take the Olympics out of the picture and you still have Al Gore's international campaign against global warming reaching China.

"It's like this: the Games have nudged China to change faster. Back in 2001, Beijing's organizers knew they had to make the city viable."

Fremont-Smith appreciates what China has achieved in the name of the concept 'Green Olympics'. But the country's rivers are choking on pollution. Its' aquifers are running dry. Its deserts are creeping towads the sea.

"When people talk about the 'Green Olympics,' they mostly talk about what Beijing has or hasn't done for the Games," explained Fremont-Smith. "We need to emphasize what needs to be done long-term, in terms of conservation, environmental awareness - in Beijing and in rural communities."

"Historians compare China today with the U.S. during the 1950s. Chinese are excited about their future. They're buying cars, building highways. China has to seek a new path - one that allows Chinese to enjoy modern life but doesn't lead to environmental degradation, like in the West."

Starbucks is a Green Long March sponsor in Beijing.

'Luse changzheng, luse huanbao' - 'Green Long March, green environmental protection.'

Students from more than 20 Chinese universities have volunteered.

Future Generations/CHINA director Frances Fremont has observed China's environment for three decades.

Last year, Fremont-Smith - formerly a professor of Chinese and international history in Hong Kong - was Future Generations/CHINA. She and a colleague in Nepal comprised the whole organization. Now she oversees 10 staffers, plus volunteers.

Emboldened by GLM 2007, Future Generations/CHINA secured a boatload of corporate sponsors for GLM 2008: Goldman-Sachs, Starbucks, Swire, Sun-tech etc. The Beijing Youth Federation is also an important Green Long March backer.

GLM volunteers won't march on Beijing this summer, an unfortunate consequence of security regulations related to the Games. But 30 Starbucks outlets throughout the city will host Green Long March route lectures and conservation celebrations beginning August 1.

Fremont-Smith hopes Beijingers and overseas Olympic tourists will attend.

"There's so much misinformation on China in the West," she said. "People don't understand China, or what people here are doing. The Western press feeds a desire to look at China negatively - positive stories are constantly lost in translation.

"The 2008 Games are a change for China to feel good about itself. When people feel good about themselves, they can accomplish a lot. The world's future is really resting on China's youth. The more they're inspired by the Olympics, the better.

"That's why the Green Long March is a huge step forward."

Working the crowd, 'greening' China for the 2008 Olympic Games.

They've got the whole wide world in their hands.

Photos courtesy of Future Generations/CHINA

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