Environmental awareness takes root in China
August 14, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EDT
From Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel
BEIJING (CNN) -- Zhou Dingli stands amid a heap of trash, its
rotten smell permeating the air. Most people might find the
site disgusting, but not Zhou. He sees potential.
Since 1992, Zhou has turned tons of used plastic products in
China into gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel.
"This way you put plastic waste to use," Zhou said, smiling
beneath his hard hat. "This is a very big achievement for
those of us in this field."
With more than a billion people and a commensurate amount of
trash, China could use more Zhous. Slowly but surely, as
environmental education becomes more common, it might just
Until recently, the environment took a backseat in Chinese
politics. But the government has come to realize that
short-term economic gains are giving way to long-term
Thus, curbing pollution over the next 15 years has become a
national priority as China examines efficient alternatives to
coal, methods to fight soil erosion and other ways to clean
up the environment.
Low-grade coal is largely to blame for the majority of the
nation's air pollution, which steadily increased over the
last 18 years of economic growth.
China accounts for 10 percent of global emissions, making it
the fourth largest contributor to air pollution behind the
United States, Europe and the former Soviet Union, according
to China's environmental group Friends of the Earth.
The country has also suffered egregious environmental damage
from its people dumping trash and contaminating rivers.
Economics or environment?
Some fear that the government may not keep its promises -- that
it will continue to push economic growth, while ignoring the
Liang Congjie with Friends of the Earth says that's why his
environmental group is trying to make the Chinese public
aware of potential environmental hazards. Once people are
educated about the problem, he says, they will begin cleaning
up. (179K AIFF or WAV sound)
Friends of the Earth is China's first and only privately run
environmental organization. It began in 1983 preaching for
nuclear disarmament. Suddenly, it has grown into the nation's
strongest environmental voice. Over the last four years,
Friends of the Earth has focused on education and projects, like saving the
forest in southern Yannan province where 200 golden monkeys
"When we heard that the local government wanted to have
commercial logging with this piece of forest, then we got
involved immediately," Liang said. "We wrote letters to
petition and to try to get attention from the public as well
as the government. Very high officials endorsed our letter
and supported us because this is (the right thing to do)."
It's a small step, one that holds an enormous global impact.
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