China struggles with state of the environment

May 30, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Besides coping with the devastation left from the earthquake, China is also struggling with the overall state of the environment. This week, a group of Chinese environmentalists is in the Bay Area to learn about saving wildlife and reversing the effects of pollution.

Heron's Head Park in Hunters Point isn't well known, but to a group of visiting Chinese environmentalists, it could inspire them to see what can be done with a former pier that turned into a dumping ground.

They are curious, committed and passionate about cleaning up China where lakes and rivers have become casualties of industrial waste discharge and neglect. They head up non-government groups that have mobilized students and volunteers to shape opinion and influence public policy.

"We believe that organizations like us, NGOs, if we can do our best, probably we can improve China's environment very fast. But it is really hard to quantify what kind of cost it will take and how long it will take to achieve this," says Fang Minghe, the director of Green Eyes Environmental Group.

Ge Yun's focus is Xinjiang in far northwest China where Kanas Lake has been preserved as a national park. But the region is under threat as industry spreads there.

"We are very concerned because Xinjiang is a very unique place in China. It has very vulnerable and fragile natural environment, so we do not want to repeat lessons we have suffered in the coastal area of China," says Xinjiang Conservation Fund Director Ge Yun.

The wetlands at Heron's Head Park support nearly 100 species of birds. Literacy for Environmental Justice sponsors education programs there. So there is hope of similar success in China.

The group, Pacific Environment, is hosting the Chinese delegation.

"Everybody's realizing that the environmental problems in China are so severe that they need everybody's support, so from every level of the government, to the young students, to the community leaders, university... people are really organizing to make some positive environmental change in China," says Daniela Salaverry with the Pacific Environment China Program.

Bringing a group from China to the Bay Area can cost thousands of dollars. In this case, it was made possible by the generosity of a single benefactor. Pacific Environment would like to invite another group over next year if it can raise the funds.