中国与世界,环境危机大家谈

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Shifang protests show Chinese kids' fears

Gerard Lemos

Readinch

Last month's environmental protests in Shifang saw the unprecedented involvement of children who have a fear of the future in China, says Gerard Lemos.

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The decision to cancel the metal refinery project in Shifang last month after protesters clashed with the police has been widely reported in the Chinese and global media. This is not the first time a project has been shelved due to public demonstrations. The same happened in Xiamen in 2008 and Dalian in 2011.  

However, less widely noted internationally was the apparently unprecedented involvement of children and young people in Shifang. Much discussed on the internet, this has not gone unnoticed in the Chinese media. Commenting on this new trend, the Global Times evoked unhappy memories of the Cultural Revolution when young people, as Red Guards, were at the forefront of upheaval and “showed a tendency to violence and cruelty”.  

In the past children may not have “rushed to the…protest scene to support a demand made by adults” as reported by the Global Times in Shifang, but in the consultation activities I undertook in Chongqing, a city in south west China, in 2007 and 2008 (published in July by Yale University Press in The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese people fear the future) the concerns of children about the environment – globally and locally – were all too evident. As in the West, children and young people will play a big role in shaping public attitudes to environmental problems in the future and policymakers would be unwise to ignore them.

Wish Trees

Having seen that people in China place their wishes on trees in temples hoping that the wind will blow their prayers to heaven, I wondered if erecting Wish Trees in ordinary neighbourhoods, far from bright lights and big city centres, might find out people’s real concerns. I wanted to go beyond familiar debates in politics, the media or universities. As a visiting professor at a university in Chongqing, I was granted permission to erect Wish Trees in three communities.

These were places in Chongqing, which had undergone big social changes but had no notable history of protests. In two neighbourhoods, large factories had closed, leaving many people without jobs, health care or social welfare. In the other neighbourhood, farmers’ land had been taken for development and they had become nong zhuan fei – farmers who had become city dwellers, without land, given a flat and modest cash compensation of 21,000 yuan (US$3,200). 


photo by Gerard Lemos 

In one neighbourhood, two classes from the local school were given permission to participate. Local people were asked four questions on the back of a leaf-shaped card: Who are you? What event changed your life? What are your greatest worries? What do you wish for? The children enthusiastically wrote down their answers and jostled with each other to pin them on the Wish Tree and many mentioned their concerns about the environment.

Children’s environmental worries

Children’s awareness of global environmental challenges is growing, partly through education, but also from the internet. An 11-year old girl, who said that the internet had changed her life, went on to say her greatest worry was “natural resources around the globe will be exhausted and the hole in the ozone layer will get bigger.” Drawing attention to the need for public education, another girl of 11 said
: “I hope that the community environment improves and that people learn to consciously protect the environment.”

But children’s responses were usually about environmental concerns in their own communities, not distant global phenomena like carbon emissions or climate change. The city of Chongqing is dramatically set where the mountains drop sharply to the confluence of the mighty, muddy Yangtze River and its cleaner, greener tributary, the Jialing. Mountains and rivers are at the heart of the city’s identity and ever-present in children’s imaginations. One child evoked the aspiration for a harmonious society and linked it to familiar surroundings: “I hope we can have a community full of harmony, laughter, happiness and where technology is very advanced and the mountains are green and the rivers beautiful.” At a more local level, another boy said, “I wish the stream outside my house won’t be murky anymore.”  

The lived – rather than the imagined – experience of environmental degradation is felt most keenly in air quality and water pollution. Chongqing, at the best of times, is foggy and intensely humid. Air quality is a persistent concern. Respiratory health problems are common, in children as well as adults. One boy, aged 11, said “I wish we could have clean air and fresh water.” 

Children learn about – and find out for themselves – the extent of environmental problems. They do not, however, fully understand difficult policy choices. Rapid economic growth is impossible without massive use of carbon-emitting fuels and China is still heavily dependent on coal. Damage to air and water quality, can be mitigated, but is inevitable for the foreseeable future. And climate change brings a new raft of anxieties about water shortages (a historic and persistent problem in China), drought and floods.

Even if they don’t fully understand the ramifications, children sense that the society they are growing up in faces those intractable challenges. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that children’s concerns may turn to protests if they are not listened to and addressed. After all, this is the world they will inherit.

Gerard Lemos is former visiting professor at Chongqing Technology and Business University and former chair of the British Council. His book, The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese people fear the future, is published by Yale University Press.

Homepage image by 好乐无荒

 

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中国孩子的担忧

孩子作为未来的历史学家们,将要为现存的问题找到解决方案。其实,和许多国家相比,中国在环境科技补救方面已经处于领先地位。但是,对于基本科学和环境事实的了解也不容忽视。煤燃烧的过程就像火山喷发最终形成的硝酸盐和硫酸被人类和其他生物呼吸、封存的过程。当然,也有一部分难闻的化学成分可以在源头处被捕捉到,并且被运用到发电站中,就像中国现在正在做的一样。现在中国可以做的是普及科学知识,让未来的历史学家们去学习,去向他们的父母解释为什么在一些特殊地方种植专用植被可以降低二氧化碳含量,例如在沙漠中种植施过肥的土菜;清洁水道等。简而言之,中国若能遵从自然规律,将会给发达和发展中国家树立起榜样,孩子们也会在实际的学习和动手中实现他们在许愿树下许下的愿望。
罗伯特. 文森

Chinese Children's fears

Children, The historians of tomorrow are very much in tune with the problem and indeed solution. China is far more advanced than many nations with environmental technology reparation, It is critical however to firstly understand basic science and environment facts. Coal burning is de-facto volcanoes emitting ultimately nitrates and sulfates for Man and living matter to breathe / sequester. Yes there are nasty chemical that can actually be captured at source and are being applied to powerstation and like now in PRC. The best thing that can be applied in China is to set in place known science practices for the Historian to learn and explain to their parents how by growing dedicated vegetation in specific regions China can lower CO2 grow soil food and fodder in deserts and cleanze waterways. Basically doing what nature does if left alone to work China will set a model for developed and developing nations and the children will have met their wish tree wishes by actually learning and doing. Robert Vincin


hope

希望孩子们能记住她们所写的

hope

I hope the children can remember what's written here.


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