BusinessWeek: “Most of the headlines about China’s environment involve victims and villains. On one side are the regular people suffering from exposure to toxic rivers and contaminated food; on the other, greedy factory owners and recalcitrant officials. Not visible in that black-and-white picture are China’s emerging ranks of environmental activists—some full-time nongovernmental organization workers and others simply volunteers responding ad hoc to threats to their health and livelihood. China’s first environmental NGO, Friends of Nature, was allowed to legally register in 1994, and since then thousands more have followed in its footsteps.
A new book edited by Oxford University lecturer Sam Geall, China and the Environment: The Green Revolution, traces the evolution of green activism in China. Geall is also executive editor of the online magazine ChinaDialogue.net. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, he shared his perspective on civil society in an authoritarian country—and how technology changes the picture.
Who are China’s environmentalists? How would you characterize today’s green advocates?
Journalists and broadcasters founded many of China’s most prominent green NGOs—after all, they witnessed the scale of the unfolding environmental crisis. China actually has a long history of civil society, which was suppressed during the Mao era. But the past 20 years have seen a flourishing of green NGOs. Now there are thousands registered, and many more unregistered. Today all sorts of people get involved in China’s environmental campaigns, from university students and middle-class urban residents protesting against the construction of polluting petrochemical factories or incinerators, to villagers in the countryside angry about pollution ruining their crops and their health.”