Last week I saw an interesting documentary about the burgeoning environmental movement in China, and to start with, let me say that I never thought the words "environmental movement" and "China" would go together, not in my lifetime, at least.
Waking the Green Tiger film follows the efforts of activists, journalists, filmmakers, and former politicians as they strive to preserve China's natural wonders, educate their neighbours, and encourage public debate, made possible by the passing of a new environmental law. The documentary focuses on a grassroots campaign, led by environmental activists, farmers, and journalists, to stop a huge dam project on the Upper Yangtze river in the mountains of southwest China. What's so bad about dams? While the country needs the power that would be generated by the hydroelectric plants, equally important is the food grown in the rich soil on the river's shores. This prime agricultural land will be lost when the dams back up the water and flood the valley - and thousands of farmers and villagers will be forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods.
The film also explores Chairman Mao's infamous "war against nature" in the late 50s and early 60s. Mao was determined to conquer nature in the name of progress, mobilizing millions of citizens in campaigns that reshaped the Chinese landscape, destroyed ecosystems, and triggered a famine of epic proportions. That's what you get for wiping out sparrows because they eat grain! There was a sick sort of ingenuity to the process of eradicating the birds: citizens would bang pots and pans and beat on drums to force the sparrows to keep flying until they fell from the sky out of exhaustion. Where did they fall? On open patches of soil that had been strewn with poison, which the birds gorged themselves on, in the hopes of regaining their strength. Eventually the birds were driven to near-extinction, and that's when the locust population exploded and wreaked havoc on China's food supply. 30 million people died of starvation.
These days in the developed world, any one person's lifestyle is so different from the next that we don't necessarily feel a sense of community, of having shared needs, of wanting to join together to protect something we all value equally. Our modern lives are so complex, there are so many problems and causes fighting for our attention and support, and with every passing generation, our neighbours grow more and more to be strangers rather than friends. What kind of leadership is necessary in this context? What type of person does it take to bring together big city residents? How can we push important environmental campaigns while everyone already has so much on their plate?
Something to think about for 2012.
Waking the Green Tiger posters used under Creative Commons from Face to Face Media.