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China diaries: Wang Yongchen

Updated Wednesday, 5th January 2011

Wang Yongchen is a journalist at China Central TV and also founder of the NGO Green Earth Volunteer. She remembers the moment when she realised that if humans can’t live in harmony with nature, they will destroy it

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My name is Wang Yongchen.  I am journalist at China Central TV and also the founder of the NGO Green Earth Volunteer.

Can you remember what first triggered your interest in environmental issues?

In 1988, I was making a TV show for CCTV, and some viewers took me to Xiangshan.  It is a place where many Beijingers go in autumn to see the red leaves of the trees there.  But too many people go there to pick some of these leaves, and as a result, a great number of self-seeded young tree plants were uprooted and taken along with leaves, to be brought back home.  This badly damaged the presence of this kind of tree in Xiangshan.  That was the first time I realized that if humans can’t live in harmony with nature, they can be a disaster to it.  

What are you working on/concerned by/motivated by at the moment?

The first Chinese environmental NGO was set up in 1994.  Our organisation, Green Earth Volunteers, was founded in 1996.  It was started by some journalists, with the goal to educate the general public.  We started with tree-planting, bird and wild animal protection.  In 2003, we found that many rivers were in bad shape; this especially came from the dams built on them.  The dams disrupt the ecosystems, and also influence migration.  We hope we can help keep the original aspect of these rivers.

So, in 2003, the media and some NGOs worked together to influence the public decision-making on these rivers.  I think the most efficient way of doing thing is public participation.  Lately, on the big dam projects of the Jinsha River and the Nu River we managed to attract the public’s attention, and influenced the decisions made about them.  Up until now, the scientists and the relevant government bodies are reevaluating whether or not to build dams there.  In terms of environmental protection in China, public participation is of utmost importance.

This is a document from our NGO and a few experts that warned about the environmental impact assessment that was going to take place on the Jinsha River.  Following on this, the Ministry of Environmental Protection invited 2 Chinese NGOs to join this environmental impact assessment.  So we can say that our actions have been useful.  What is important is that this call from the journalists can let a lot of people know about what is happening.  There has been a lot of international media covering the Nu River.

This is a member of the state Council.  After visiting with us the Nu River, he wrote this document called “Reactions and suggestions about the Nu River dam project.”  He sent it to the office of the Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.  This happened in the 2008, when came with us to the Nu River.  In April 2009, for the second time the Prime Minister Wen Jiabao gave further instructions and said that more debate and scientific research was needed.  

What do you anticipate working on and thinking about in relation to environmental issues over the next 1, 5 and 10 years?

In 2006, we started a project called “10 years walking through the rivers” that aims to record the changes that affect rivers, especially the six major rivers in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces: the Min river, Dadu river, Yalong river, Jinsha river, Nancang river and the Nu river.  During the past 4 years, in terms of biodiversity and under the influence of climate change, we have seen that these rivers have changed in a worrying way.  In the next 6 years, we will continue to focus on these rivers.  Recording these changes is the responsibility of the media and NGOs.

It is also a good way for us to influence public policy making.  People’s awareness of environmental protection has increased.  Also, the possibility for public participation is much important than before.  For example, in 2008, China has published the information disclosure law, which means that the transparency of our information and our right to know what is going on have definitely increased.  These kinds of laws and regulations are very important for environmental protection in China.

I think in the next 10 years, climate change is going to increasingly more visibly affect China.  I hope this will attract the world’s attention.  The Tibetan Plateau is the third highest plateau in the world, and its size is able to influence climate change.  It does not really inspire optimism.  I think it is very important to have more and more people who realize this problem.  I think the Chinese environmental organisations and the Chinese media have to take their responsibilities.

They also have the potential to contribute.  I have an example.  Over the past few years, I have been to the sources of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers.  The first time I went there 10 years ago, you could see beautiful glaciers everywhere.  It looked like an ice museum.  When I went there last year, these beautiful glaciers had almost all disappeared.  We, along with the NGOs and journalists recording these changes, and also along with the local people, local herders should call for a low carbon way of life.

We should find a suitable position for ourselves in nature, but we shouldn’t try to modify or conquer it as we did before.  This requires everybody’s attention.  If the NGOs and the media work more on all that, I see the future rather positively.  We still have hope in the sustainable development of nature.  

Are you an optimist or a pessimist as you look out to where we might be in 2020?

Yes, I am an optimist.  We saw our improvements.  We have met many difficulties in the last four years, on our project “10 years walking through the rivers”.  But thanks to our efforts, the Nu River dam has not yet been built.  It is still the focus of heated debates.  There’s a famous spot called The First Loop of the Nu river.  I was there is 2004.  You could see snow mountains there.  But in 2007, 2008 and 2009, we noticed that the snow line had noticeably retreated.  I went there on December 31, 2009.  I could not see any snow at all.  So it’s clear that climate change has already badly affected the Tibetan Plateau and the West of China.

So I hope that as the world looks into climate change, people can pay attention to the Tibetan Plateau and the West of China.  This should not only catch the Chinese’s attention, but the world’s.  This is extremely important to our future and to humanity.





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