My account on China: Environmental ambitions

11:52

Today, much of the world, and especially those who follow news from Asia-Pacific and China, are aware of China’s ambitions to clean up its environment and reduce forms of energy. polluting or not considered clean. Over the past decade, the country has made those commitments pretty clear, clearly articulating its shift away from coal, carbon emissions targets and more.

But what does that actually look like? How to gauge such a multitude of factors that would determine whether the environment is improving or not?

Part of my recent two-month trip focused on exactly that – the achievements the country has made in terms of meeting previously set policies, and then how much is left to do.

I started in the southwest of China, in the tourist town of Dali.

Aerial view of Dali’s iconic Erhai Lake. /CGTN

Aerial view of Dali’s iconic Erhai Lake. /CGTN

It is a city of escape that over the past few decades has relied so heavily on the tourism industry and its iconic Erhai Lake, that one would worry if major radical policies were put in place, that the landscape of the city would change, that places would close and the picturesque city would lose its luster.

And that actually happened years ago.

Speaking with 55-year-old Dali native He Licheng, someone I spent several days with learning about his shortcomings and business failures, he was quite honest about how Erhai Lake has played an impact so important to people’s livelihoods, and continues to do so to this day. .

CGTN’s Omar Khan (L) chats with Dali native He Licheng (R) about the changes he has witnessed in his hometown. /CGTN

CGTN’s Omar Khan (L) chats with Dali native He Licheng (R) about the changes he has witnessed in his hometown. /CGTN

For more than 30 years, the local government has gone through phases of implementing policies to curb the spread of algae and other pollutants in the waters of the lake. He says the progressive policies draw a parallel with residents’ local businesses.

With strict policies, there have been closures and loss of revenue. He is a fishing boat, a fishing pond, a host family… they have all been rented from the city. Even parts of his foster family were demolished to create space to build an ecological corridor along the shores of Erhai.

Admittedly, this did not sit well with He, telling me that he and his family needed time to figure out why this was happening, why these policies were put in place. After all, he was losing money and struggling to come to terms with the ups and downs of his hometown.

Years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the city, specifically visiting parts of the lake and meeting He. It came at a time when more was being done to clean up the lake and bring back its lucid, clean water.

The waters of the lake have seen a much-needed improvement, with new water treatment facilities helping with the algae. /CGTN

The waters of the lake have seen a much-needed improvement, with new water treatment facilities helping with algae. /CGTN

After talking with the president and learning what was being done to protect the lake, he changed his mind. He began to realize that the lake was no longer the lucid waters he swam in when he was young. Tourism did indeed bring growth and money, but it had impacts that ultimately damaged the local ecosystem.

It was a three-decade learning experience for He and the vast majority of the townspeople. Many of them are now continuing their business and pursuing other avenues of greener tourism services. For He, he turned to growing rice and oilseeds and selling them all over the country.

A rainbow defines Dali’s sky on a beautiful summer day. /CGTN

A rainbow defines Dali’s sky on a beautiful summer day. /CGTN

And if it weren’t for the now cleaner waters of Erhai, the very ground he grows his crops on would probably never grow or even see the light of day.

My environmental journey didn’t end there, however.

From the humid, tropical landscape of Yunnan, I headed to the arid northwest, visiting the Babusha Desert in Gansu.

Guo Wangang (L) shows the parts of the Babusha Desert where he wants to bring greenery. /CGTN

Guo Wangang (L) shows the parts of the Babusha Desert where he wants to bring greenery. /CGTN

There I met a multi-generational group of people, farmers and locals, who had dedicated their entire lives to preventing the spread of the desert.

Guo Wangang and local farmers install straw grids to prevent sand from heaving and spreading. /CGTN

Guo Wangang and local farmers install straw grids to prevent sand from heaving and spreading. /CGTN

Efforts to combat desertification have been in full swing here for four decades, led by those known as the Six Old Men.

It was the pioneers who started planting trees in parts of the sand dune strip of the Babusha Desert that had long caused sandstorms and impacted farmers’ crops.

I met Zhang Runyuan, one of the six old men, now retired and happily enjoying his old age. He tells me what triggered their sudden desire to push back the desert.

Zhang Runyuan (right), one of the original Six Old Men, reflects on his past and what they have accomplished. /CGTN

Zhang Runyuan (right), one of the original Six Old Men, reflects on his past and what they have accomplished. /CGTN

It happened when a friend of his was buried in a shelter following a sandstorm. Zhang and others had to dig it up, frantically trying to save their friend. When found, the man shouted that he had had enough of the desert and it was time they did something.

A sandstorm crosses the Babusha Desert. /CGTN

A sandstorm crosses the Babusha Desert. /CGTN

For me, I never really thought that humanity could take on mother nature, challenge her brute force. But the people I’ve met here in Gansu, for them, it’s not about fighting back, it’s more about protecting themselves and their loved ones.

And by the turn of the century, the Six Old Men and future generations were responsible for planting more than 10 million trees in 50 square kilometers of desert.

Fast forward to 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping came to the Babusha Desert, acknowledging generations of farmers for their selfless efforts. That day were Guo Wangang and his son Guo Xi.

To this day, Guo Wangang still walks to the sand dunes alongside a team of farmers, tirelessly planting, laying down sticks and branches to prevent the sand from shifting.

Guo Wangang (left) hopes more residents will get involved in anti-desertification efforts in Gansu province. /CGTN

Guo Wangang (left) hopes more residents will get involved in anti-desertification efforts in Gansu province. /CGTN

The day I met him I also had my hands dirty, plowing in the desert heat with literally no sign of civilization in sight.

As for the young Guo Xi, the decades-long endeavors that took place here in Gansu pushed his enterprising spirit. For the younger, more vegetation allowed for the expansion of animal husbandry and chicken farming, while certain species of flowers and trees also became mainstays of what is known as “the economy. sand”.

A week in Gansu, I saw how the farmers here have made the desert their life, even though it is the exact cause of some of their difficulties. And yes, of course, there’s the instinctive response to ask, “why don’t these people just move somewhere else?” But let’s say for any local community anywhere in the world, that’s much easier said than done.

Dali and the Babusha desert, two unique places, with different identities and surely different futures. But the constant was the people I met there, who, shockingly, were so attached to their environment and the impacts their communities had on it.

An aerial view of plants, shrubs and trees that have been planted by generations of farmers. /CGTN

An aerial view of plants, shrubs and trees that have been planted by generations of farmers. /CGTN

Perhaps it is still rare to see these kinds of collective approaches taken by local people, but it is definitely something we can learn from and take initiatives in our homes, neighborhoods and places of life.

(Xi Jia, Feng Yilei, and Zhu Longzhou also contributed to this story.)

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