photo: Yu Kuai


By Yu Kuai

When a developing country has been prospering full steam ahead for the past 20 years - as China has - there can be a danger that environmental issues take a back seat to economic growth. Indeed, some Chinese people see industrial pollution as a necessary by-product of the country's rapid economic development and increased prosperity. To them, environmental protection is costly and time consuming, with no readily apparent reward.

But, as environmental problems grow, Chinese young people are increasingly taking a stand. Two of them are Yan Xiaowei, 19, of East China College of Law in Shanghai, and Wang Lei, 21, of Nankai University. Both have undertaken projects to get their communities involved in environmental sustainability, through the Bayer Young Environmental Envoy programme, which fosters dialogue on sustainable development among talented Asian, Latin American and Eastern European youth.

With Bayer's help, Yan developed a plan to train passionate, capable leaders to motivate their communities to take action on ecological issues. In her outline for Community Power Releasing Programmes, she recommends that youth envoys cooperate with neighbourhood committees and local businesses to devise customized environmental protection activities for their communities, explaining that 'kids, retirees and adults can be very good teammates'.


Lei directed his energies towards tackling environmental challenges of urban life on his campus and in his hometown of Tianjin. As head of his university's environmental protection association, Nankai Green Group, he has led fellow students in promoting schemes to plant trees, collect refuse and protect birds. He keeps a 50-cm-high iron glass lantern - rescued from a rubbish dump during the annual Environmental Envoys' field trip to Germany - in his room to remind him that 'waste is raw material in the
wrong place'.

Rampant materialism and public apathy about the environment particularly concern young Chinese environmental leaders. But they do not believe that environmental protection and economic development are mutually exclusive. 'If the importance of environmental protection can be rooted in everyone's minds,' says Yan, 'we can all live healthier and more comfortable lives'.

Yu Kuai, 21, a Bayer Young Environmental Envoy from Beijing's Tsinghua University, started a campaign to reduce the number of plastic bags handed out by campus supermarkets. The drive, titled 'Green U, Green Life', encouraged students to put small purchases in their backpacks and handed out reusable cotton shopping bags for larger items.

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