China – Acting as a Regional Hub for Environmental Protection Efforts in Lanzhou, China

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Photo by Green Camel Bell

GREEN CAMEL BELL
Greengrants has provided a series of grants to help this organization develop. The most recent is $5,000 for an educational handbook on pollution from radioactive waste. (2006)

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In 1999, environmental leader Liang Congjie, founder of Friends of Nature and TIME Asia reporter, called Lanzhou (the capital city of the Gansu province of northwestern China) “the most polluted city on earth. Until the rivers stank of raw sewage and the coal dust clogged the air, almost no one gave much thought to the negative influences of industrialization.” (see story) He continued: “China [in the 1960’s] was convulsed in political turmoil, and few people had time to notice that the sky, rivers and lakes had become severely polluted, the forests were disappearing, the grasslands were facing desertification and biodiversity was being drastically reduced. Today, the environmental movement in China is still limited to a very few people.” That is beginning to change.

Green Camel Bell (GCB), an environmental activist group, is working to protect Gansu’s forests, wildlife and rivers, and to raise awareness and establish ties to like-minded groups. In a region marked by a lag in development, a lack of networks, and ethnic divisions, GCB is pushing past these barriers and generating an informed and involved environmental advocacy association. Global Greengrants Fund has recognized the importance of these activities, and has issued several grants to GCB for capacity building and activism purposes. The China Advisory Board believes that Green Camel Bell can “unite local student groups, gather experienced student leaders as key members and move beyond campus-based activities.” In a place where environmentalist activity is almost completely absent, GCB has served as a beacon of hope to others with ambitions of sustainable development and environmental protection.

Western China has fallen behind the East. Unlike the coastal provinces, it lacks development, infrastructure, and opportunity. In response to this, the Chinese government has launched a West China Development Plan, in hopes of combating this situation. The Plan will bring “infrastructure construction, ecological protection and construction, human resources development, science and technology, education and social development, industrial structure adjustment and [open western China] to the outside world.” (see article on the plan) However, with industrialization invariably comes environmental damage. Although at one point the Chinese government would have boasted about this pollution as a sign of progress, they have come to recognize it as a problem.

Out of the smog of Lanzhou, Green Camel Bell was born. It was organized in November 2004 by various university students to create a network for student environmental associations (SEAs) and to advance environmental causes within Gansu and surrounding provinces. Mr. Zhao Zhong, who is spearheading the organization, made the following comment about GCB’s expansion from a network of SEAs to an autonomous professional environmental advocacy group. “We have invited people, like scholars, social organization leaders, officers, and enterprisers, to join our council which will be our main supervisory group . . . This May, we took part in the restorative efforts surrounding the pollution accident that happened to a Lanzhou petrification company. It’s the first time we acted as a local environmental NGO in such things. It’s a great transition.” GCB acts as a regional hub and resource center through which environmental activists can grow their network and coordinate activities.

Global Greengrants has issued five grants to GCB; one in 2004, two in 2005, and two (so far) in 2006.

The ’04 grant funded capacity-building efforts within Green Camel Bell, and helped them to obtain an office and basic equipment. In addition to this, GCB initiated a “fruit for card” program, in which they encouraged locals to give fruit instead of the usual Holiday cards, in an effort to promote awareness about forest degradation and destruction. A 2005 grant helped them purchase a computer for their office. This was also the first year they initiated their online newsletter, distributed monthly and printed regularly.

The grants in late 2005 and 2006 aided Green Camel Bell in the growth and expansion of their network and activities. GGF funds have been used to do the following: distribute information and give public talks about the ethical treatment of animals in the Wuquan Mountain Zoo of Lanzhou, research and publicize the effects of radioactive waste on the people and wildlife of Gansu, and compile and make accessible the most complete and comprehensive library of ecological and environmental science materials in northwestern China.

Furthermore, GCB works with other environmental protection groups in Gansu, and facilitates the growth and success of partners in advocacy. From their environmental education project, to the Gansu Green Camp for undergraduates, to the animal rights efforts in Lanzhou Zoo, to the protection of the Saiga antelope, GCB is indeed fulfilling its role as a regional hub and resource for environmental groups.

GCB is making headway not only on the environmental protection front, but is breaking down socio-cultural barriers as well, by building bridges between many different ethnic groups. Northwestern China is home to the Hui people, the Tibetans, and the Dongxiang people, among others. Green Camel Bell’s team is composed of individuals from the Han, Tibetan, Hui, Mao, and Man ethnic groups. Since 2005, GCB has visited the Tibetan region twice, and has developed a good relationship with the Muslim culture in Lanzhou.

Green Camel Bell is a true example of the success that grassroots movements can achieve. What began as a few passionate students at universities sprinkled throughout the Gansu province has grown quickly into an environmental protection stronghold in that region. Green Camel Bell, along with Global Greengrants and others, will continue to do all it can to ensure that development in western China is sustainable.

Greengrants grants to Green Camel Bell:

2006: (2 grants) $5,000, $5,000.

2005: $5,000

2004: (3 grants) $2,300, $2,300, $800

(See more information on these grants.)