Zhao Jiaxin and Howey Ou are trying to convince Beijing to take radical carbon-cutting action

One is a student engineer who became obsessed after watching an incendiary film about air pollution. The other is a 16-year-old who went on Chinas first climate strike.

Zhao Jiaxin and Howey Ou are part of a small but growing minority of young Chinese determined to press their country towards more radical carbon-cutting action. The pair are also Chinas sole winners of carbon neutral green tickets the UN is providing to 100 young people around the world.

China is the worlds leading carbon emitter. It generates 60% of its electricity from coal-fired power and coal consumption and carbon emissions have risen for two years in a row after a plateau between 2014 and 2016. Emissions are expected to rise again in the figures for this year.

Yet within the country, the positive half of the picture is more likely to be heard: how devoted the nation is to Xi Jinpings goal of constructing an ecological civilisation, how China is a climate change leader compared with the US, and how much record-breaking renewable energy capacity it continues to install.

Howey does not think this is enough. She conducted a public climate strike in front of government offices in Guilin in southern China for several days in late May Greta Thunberg called her a true hero before the authorities said she had to stop because she did not have a permit.

The 16-year-old, who spends her spare time planting trees around her hometown, was nominated to travel to this weeks United Nations climate summit in New York by the youth activist group Earth Uprising and nearly had to back out of attending because her chaperone was worried she would not stick to the Chinese government script.

People in China dont know the situation and think the Chinese government is doing a lot and is great, she said.

The point is that people here cant petition to protest and do something about the climate. Even if people want to change [things] they think activism in China will fail and the cost is too [high].

In a country where the party line controls the climate debate to the extent that a general apathy infuses the broader public, Howey and Zhao are the sudden, fresh young faces of environmental activism.

There are some signs they are not alone. Young people and women living in cities are increasingly aware of global climate issues and Chinas place at the centre of them, according to a recent study in the journal The China Quarterly.

In China, the good news is that compared to the population, younger Chinese tend to be more concerned about climate change, said Liu Xinsheng, the lead author of the report from Texas A&M University. The bad news is that overall, average Chinese climate change concern is low relative to many countries around the world.

Zhaos passion for climate issues was triggered by the documentary Under the Dome, which he watched four years ago while studying engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Zhao
Zhao Jiaxin: I found something I could do for society. Photograph: Supplied

The film inspired him to set up an NGO to raise awareness of the climate crisis on campus and create a platform disseminating information on the social media app WeChat.

I found something I could do for society, Zhao said of his awakening after seeing the film. In my last year [at university] I felt that if I did not communicate, did not advocate about what I thought was true, then powerful [other ideas] would dominate society.

Under the Dome, an examination of the policy failures and personal effects of air pollution in China, appeared online for several days in February and was viewed by as many as 300 million people before being banned.

It is unlikely there will be climate strikes in China on Friday like those being staged in the west. The country passed a law after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 that imposed strict conditions on public gatherings and forced groups to register with the police if they want to stage a protest.

Organisations connected to the government such as the China Youth Climate Action Network, founded in 2007, are one of the official routes young people can take to raise climate awareness. The group holds events and educational training to help raise awareness of climate issues among Chinas young people.

Zheng Xiaowen, CYCANs executive director, said: I dont think student protests are a helpful solution to the problem in China. Because of the unique cultural and political circumstances, Chinese people tend to resort to more moderate ways to voice their concerns.

Howey Ou (@howey_ou)

#FridaysForFuture I dont have to stuck in the way of striking,I must do what I could do right now.If I keeppreparing,the time will lose.While the time is the most gracious thing to survive from climate crisis.Planted 6 trees in 13th,Sep.Starting #PlantforSurvive,This is WEEK1. pic.twitter.com/IFvFW0ypN8

September 14, 2019

We need to advocate actions against climate change in ways that best suit China. For us, the best way is to work with the government and help come up with plans to tackle those issues together.

While small steps are being made, the lack of awareness of climate change in the country is alarming, Liu said, because China is the worlds leading greenhouse gas emitter and one of the countries that could be badly affected by extreme weather events and rising sea levels, with knock-on effects for the economy and health.

China has top-down policymaking, Liu said. It is hard to imagine without public awareness and concern for climate issues that the government policies will be successful.

No Chinese media outlets have signed up to a global pledge to increase coverage of the climate crisis in the week leading up to the UN summit on Friday, a pledge 250 media groups have agreed to including the Guardian and Bloomberg.

The inertia bothers Howey, but she believes there is hope: It is frustrating to me, but Im still alive and have the passion for change.


Additional research contributions from Zhong Yunfan

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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