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A Note from the Province of the Nine-Headed Bird

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

With our intrepid blogmaster Michael Zhang still on vacation, we are reminded of just how much work it is to maintain a daily, bilingual blog.  And various work matters have overtaken our lives in recent weeks, so apologies for our general absence from these pages this past month.  That said, we expect to be back in the blogging saddle shortly.

We find ourselves in Xiangfan, Hubei Province today visiting with our old friend Yun Jianli and her wonderful team of volunteers at Green Hanjiang.  As I said a few years ago in Time Magazine:

People like Yun Jianli are the drivers of positive change in China. All countries that have dealt with their environmental problems to any degree have people like Yun—passionate, on-the-ground voices who will keep on working until things change for the better.

If you do not know about them, please learn more about them here (if you read Chinese).  Yun Jianli, in short, is a force of nature who is changing minds and stopping pollution along the Han River and its tributaries.  We are learning that she is a local celebrity as well.  Two taxi drivers in a row refused to take money from us this morning because they recognized Yun and knew of her good work.  I think she just recruited two new volunteers as well.

Looking at pictures of the Han and its tributaries from just 3 or 4 years ago, it’s clear that there has been significant improvement here.  The river – oily and black in many places back then – to the naked eye looks, well, like a river again.  The work that Yun Jianli has done has spurred the closure of many (but certainly not all) of the worst fly-by-night factories along the Han River, Tangbai River and other branches.  We rode upstream on a boat donated by The Waterkeeper Alliance and saw a waste pile from a fertilizer plant at the river’s edge that was getting cleaned up (though we cannot tell how well) after aggressive advocacy by Green Hanjiang.  This sort of change makes me think of the trajectory over the last forty years of the Cuyahoga River, which famously set on fire in the late 60s.

We are supporting Green Hanjiang to carry out trainings for their extensive network of water monitoring volunteers because this sort of smart and persistant public advocacy is the key to a better environment in China.  There has been a great deal of focus in the press on China’s investments in green technology and the like.  While important, technological solutions are not going to be the end-all-be-all that some make them out to be.  Communities educating themselves about the environment and taking constructive steps to make themselves heard will bring about positive change.  That’s just a fact.  And if you want to see a great example of how that works, look no further than Green Hanjiang and Yun Jianli.

We’ll post more from our field visits tomorrow.

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