For the past 60 years, the citizens of China have tried to protect their environment. The dismal state of China’s environment today is proof of their failure, but not of their lack of effort and commitment.
Dai Qing, China’s best known environmentalist and the editor of Yangtze! Yangtze!, a book critical of the country’s massive Three Gorges dam project, is but one example of that abiding commitment. She was sentenced to 10 months in jail for speaking out in defence of China’s beloved Yangtze River.
As Dai Qing’s experience shows, without the rule of law and public oversight of government operations and law-making, Chinese citizens are unable to protect their environment. As a result, China’s natural resources have fallen foul to pollution and degradation. Sixty percent of the water in seven of China’s major rivers systems is now unsuitable for human contact; one-third of the land is contaminated by acid rain; eighty percent of the country’s rivers and lakes are drying up; two-thirds of China’s grassland has become desert; most of the country’s forests are gone; and water systems and soil throughout the land have been severely polluted by fertilizers and pesticides.
But the Internet has given the people of China a vital tool for change and a reason for hope. It has also given the country’s brave environmental researchers, writers, lawyers, scientists, and scholars who seek to save China’s environment, a way forward. With the power of information and knowledge, the citizens of China can today begin to tackle their country’s enormous environmental problems.
And they are doing so with vigour, determination, and clarity.
In the hopes of bolstering these great efforts, we are pleased to launch this new site: Voices from China. Our goal is to publish the views of China’s emerging environmental advocates as they explore the causes of China’s environmental demise and find solutions for recovery.
These dedicated citizen activists have emerged from a unique environmental English language programme (called EET), created by Dai Qing and Probe International in 2005 to bring together some 100 Chinese lawyers, journalists, and public interest researchers to explore environmental issues in English. In their own words, they can now give English readers the inside view of modern China and an understanding of the reforms needed to turn China’s economy and environment around for the future health of their country and its people.
Articles in the Voices from China series
The popular Twitter-equivalent Chinese microblog website hosted by Sina, called http://www.weibo.com, has become the most important tool for Chinese citizens to gain access to information, and to disseminate it relatively free of the censors. Everyone, from ordinary citizens to intellectuals and celebrities, from grassroots groups to UN bodies, all have registered on Weibo (pronounced Way-bo) in order to influence their stakeholders and the public. Now, environmental leaders from China’s Environmental English Training program (EET) have initiated their own microblog monitor of environmental news events, gathered from Weibo. Called Weibo Watch, the EET monitor summarizes the week’s environmental news, direct from the hearts and minds, and the keyboards, of China’s netizens as they work for change in the way decisions are made in their communities across China.
Issue No. 1
In this, inaugural edition of Weibo Watch, public derision follows the announcement of a local government plan to transform Yunnan’s lovely Meri Snow Mountain area for the sake of photograph seekers; China’s State Forestry Administration announces overseas hunters can now shoot the following animals (for a price), while more and more citizens turn to Weibo to publicize human rights violations and cases of injustice, appealing to the whole of society for help.
Issue No. 2
In the latest installment of Weibo Watch, China’s netizens debate a Shanghai government plan to relocate 76 chemical factories to undisclosed locations in the next year; an opinion piece looks at why Environmental Protection Departments in China have become ‘Dissolving Departments’, meanwhile a Yunnan newspaper report notes that 5,000 tons of chromium waste has been dumped in several sites.
Issue No. 3
Weibo Watch: Issue 3 looks at China’s Eco-Water Tours; industrial stink, dangerous dams and drains that are completely fake.
Issue No. 4
This week on Weibo Watch: controversy brews over a beer company’s plans to trek through a fragile nature reserve.
Issue No. 5
In this installment of Weibo Watch: hundreds of rivers and dams dry up, Poyang Lake continues to shrink, Beijing Zoo’s new amusement park draws an angry response, and complaints about mining in Tibetan culture’s holy mountains fall on deaf ears.
Issue No. 6
This week, netizens take on polluting phone manufacturers, document Beijing’s traffic troubles, successfully shut down a hunting festival and investigate sales of mysterious “gray swan” meat for the Mid-Autumn Day Festival.
Issue No. 7
This week on Weibo Watch: rock desertification is turning a huge swath of southwest China barren; villagers in Guangdong fight illegal, environmentally damaging mining; citizens in Zhejiang, protesting an energy company’s carcinogenic pollution, face official denial and police detention; restaurants stop selling shark fin; and an NGO walks along the highly polluted Xiang River.
Issue No. 8
This week, a botched Car Free Day sees heavier traffic jams than usual; Beijing’s air pollution is far worse than Chinese authorities admit; citizens clash with police in protests against waste incineration; and farmers burn straw, adding smog to Chinese cities.
Issue No. 9
In this instalment of Weibo Watch: the media investigates cadmium-contaminated rice, technological bird kills, and rivers polluted with heavy metals or choked with weeds; netizens catch online vendors selling protected species; and professors kneel in protest against steel factories, setting off a heated debate.
Issue No. 10
In this instalment of Weibo Watch: grassroots social activism takes off. Socially innovative schemes that encourage citizens to, for example, carry supplies to needy areas when they pass through, are blooming thanks to microblogs. Meanwhile, more and more netizens in different cities are taking action to monitor air quality levels for themselves, following the shocking accusation that Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau had stopped collecting data from two of its monitoring sites years ago because the data revealed damning pollution levels.
Issue No. 11
In this instalment of Weibo Watch: In March, Beijing announced it would build Asia’s largest trash incineration plant. In Yunnan, April was an especially cruel month: 273 rivers dried up, leaving people to weep as they tended to their fields. As pressure mounts across the country to reduce particulates and the causes of air-borne pollution, the monitoring of PM2.5 fine particulate air pollution steps up.