Hope was a word that in 2008 really resonated with the American public. Along with the word change, they resonated so strongly that the two accompanied a certain American president hopeful right into office. But in the end a word is just a word, and an idea is just an idea. It is, in fact, action from which true hope and change must find its birthplace.
Every day working at Greenpeace in the Beijing office I see change taking place. Not that it's anything new to say change is taking place in China: double digits economic growth, a rapidly transforming middle class, a country set to become the world's biggest per capita carbon emissions polluter far too quickly. Yes, change is abound in China, but what about the kind of change that can inspire hope?
Recently our toxics campaigner Tianjie Ma returned from an event Greenpeace co-organized designed to help inform China's textile industry leaders on how to phase out the use of hazardous chemicals. The event follows our recent global campaign 'Detox', which exposed the use of nonylphenol ethoxylates in many of the world's biggest clothing labels. Previously an industry conference such as this might have had 20-30 attendees - tops. This year, the room was bursting at the seams (pun intended) with over 150 factory owners and textile industry representatives, all eager to learn and conceive of ways to substitute and eliminate hazardous chemicals from their production cycles.
And at the corporate level H&M, Adidas, Nike and Puma have all publicly made commitments to a phase-out.
Our work covering chromium waste piles in Yunnan also led to some considerable media coverage and public attention. Immediately after the local government fenced up the identified polluted area, began digging up soil for treatment, destroying rice from lands irrigated with polluted water, investigating the whole region for suspect chromium waste, testing well water near the site and then releasing the results to the public. The Ministry of Environmental Protection also announced a national crackdown on chromium waste sites, with clear timelines. And it's had a positive spill-on effect into other waste issues such as e-waste.
Whether its consumers, corporations, or the government, environmentalism in China is on the up. The examples I can give you are endless. Together, they paint a true picture of what change looks like.
Over in the States I have friends in their 20s with college degrees, but no jobs. With parents, but without family homes. Young people who wanted to change the world, but now feel that the system is simply too bad and too big. "It doesn't matter if we put a great man in office," said my friend Austin to me last month, "because of how our country is set up he can't do what he set out to."
Systemic change has always been the only kind of change that really matters. But systemic change is nothing but the end result of many, many small actions. What is change but community fundraising, organized protests, voting in new laws and regulations, working in an environmental NGO, donating to a cause, volunteering in a developing country, corporate social responsibility, a politician deciding to look at the bigger picture, a CEO deciding to look at the bigger picture.
It is this tidal wave of "little" victories that gives each and every one of us a reason to hope.