Note: I have previously written on the details of my trip to China through a program I was selected to be a part of, sponsored by Cathay Pacific. Now, I would like to share what I took away from the experience and what is to be learned about the environment of China.
This summer I spent two weeks in China on a high school environmental trip sponsored by Cathay Pacific. I had the time of my life in one of the most amazing places in the world. But what we did in China is not what you might expect.
When I told people that I was going to China, most thought about the many skyscrapers of Shanghai or Hong Kong, or the shopping, or possibly the cuisine. What they didn't know is what I would really be doing; l was leaving all that luxury behind to venture into the heart of China, parts where cities are underdeveloped and tourism is scarce.
Telling this to my friends and family, they were shocked. Like so many other people not familiar with China, people I shared my experience with didn't know what lies behind these international cities. What I found and what they were shocked to learn is that behind all the glitter and glamour lays a developing country faced with harsh environmental roadblocks.
Rural China and the international cities like Beijing or Hong Kong are polar opposites. The Chinese countryside is years behind in modernization, while the international cites are some of the most advanced in the world. The problem of water quality is faced all throughout China and is an issue for the poor farmers of Sichuan and the businessmen of Hong Kong alike.
Growing up, potable water was always as easy as turning on the sink. Traveling to China made me realize how we take our easy accessibility to clean water for granted. In China, every time my throat was dry or I needed to brush my teeth I had to make sure the water I was using was clean. This is a problem that I will work to solve because one should not have to worry about something as simple as the water they drink.
The people of Sichuan face a lot of trouble in their daily lives and are constantly struggling when it comes to balancing economic growth with environmental conservancy. Located 800+ miles inland off the coast of China, the rural Sichuan province, among many neighboring regions, faces problems regarding economic development. As a developing area, their first priority is to expand their economic growth so they can increase their profits and modernize their lifestyles. The dilemma is that in a time of such environmental conservancy, Mother Nature is always kept in mind and can sometimes come as a sacrifice with economic growth.
Fortunately, the residents of Sichuan choose to put the environment first when moving forward.
The hurdle rural China must overcome is learning how to balance economic growth with environmental conservation. This might hinder their process and cost more money, but in the long run their situation will benefit greatly with a stable, clean environment.
So, what can China do to successfully conquer these issues and what can we, 7,301 miles away, do to help? The answer, although not as helpful as it seems, is to raise awareness. In fact, that was one of the goals of this trip -- to tell the world that China is not all pretty skyscrapers, factories, an interesting language, and dim sum. The truth is that China faces major economic and ecological problems similar to those in countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, or Guatemala that are more well-known as developing countries. This is the truth despite the fact that China holds the world's second-largest and fastest-growing economy.
Though this task is huge, the local villagers of the Sichuan province approach these issues optimistically. The enormous task does not frighten these people; it only excites them, because with it comes new ways to better improve their surroundings.
One example I found was during our stay at the Hulin Ecological Resort, wrapped in the rolling Chinese hills, far away from any signs of urban lifestyle. A common scenario, local villagers sought an additional form of revenue. They decided to harvest bees to sell honey to help boost the local economy. Farmers learned that if they obtained a certain environmental certificate, they could sell their honey for double the amount. To get this certificate, they had to pass certain environmental standards, like purifying the water or raising chickens. This further encouraged environmentally-conscious living while boosting the local economy, which is the ultimate goal in these rural villages.
While learning about these dedicated villagers and all they are doing to protect their environment, I realized how lucky I was to witness such dedication to the beautiful scenery and how lucky we are that these local farmers are making it a priority to protect it.
The environment is such a big part of my everyday life and I couldn't imagine it not being the same in 20 years. In the western world, we must be inspired by the dedication of these rural farmers and put the environment first while moving forward.
On a more global scale, we also learned about Cathay Pacific's dedication to the environment and the great measures they are taking to make Mother Earth a priority. In an ever-growing worldwide business, the environment can often be overlooked and mistreated. Cathay is taking measures to modernize their fleet, making them a much more fuel-efficient airline and utilizing them as effectively as possible. If all airlines put this much time and effort in protecting the environment as Cathay Pacific, we would have a much greener and cleaner world.
This unique experience taught me that though poverty and lack of modernization is everywhere, the people affected most by it are often the ones dedicated most to reversing it. People are facing problems with the environment all around the world and they are realizing that now is the time to step up and take action, or the view outside their window might not be the same for future generations. The world is coming together take part in the difficult task of protecting Mother Nature while modernizing as a whole. Now is the time to wake up, face the problems at hand, and join the green revolution for a better future.