With Words, Hip Hop and Hundreds of Bicycles, Beijing's Youth Call for Climate Action

The resounding call for climate action that capped a series of talks in Beijing this week between the US and China didn't come from top officials, but from a more unusual constituent: young Beijingers.

The city's celebration of the 350.org International Day of Climate Action began, appropriately, with a parade of bicycles. A sharp contrast to the city's big National Day parade on October 1st, the band of hundreds of young citizens, expats and NGO workers climbed on their two-wheelers -- and in some cases, one-wheelers -- and plied their way through the center of the city to a carnival at the Natural History Museum. Hundreds circulated amidst the booths, workshops, vegan snack stands and performances, which all made vigorous calls for a reduction in atmospheric CO2 to 350 parts per million, as part of 350.org's global day of demonstrations. "This is really big," gushed Zhang Chen, 16, a student at Beijing Normal University High School who was managing an interactive display about wildlife preservation and climate change. "It's one of the greatest events i've ever seen."

Tables ringing the museum's front plaza offered workshops on climate issues run by more than 100 students who came from around the country. They were guests of Roots & Shoots, an NGO run by the Jane Goodall Institute China, which organized the event, the "Climate Action Carnival." On the museum steps, guest speakers from the EU-China Biodiversity Programme, Oxfam China were accompanied by fixed-gear bike tricksters Natooke, the Beijing Academy of Dance, and The Carbon Cube, a project by local arts collective and co-organizer Greening the Beige, offering inspiration and information on climate change, carbon footprint reduction, environmental rehabilitation and sustainability.

Also dropping green knowledge was legendary Beijing green rapper Sustainable John, of China's Green Beat (see an old video here), accompanied by beatbox extraordinaire Huan Bao Panda (huan bao means environmental protection) and yours truly, MC ?uestration. A sampling: "we don't carbon / we need a car ban! / if we want to go far/ man, we need a good plan." Yep, we brought the house down, if not CO2 levels.

Zhang, the high school student, said she and her friends -- part of a young and still small campus environmental group -- were moved by the event and its message. She feared the potential sinking of island nations like the Maldives, and lamented the loss of habitats for the polar bear and the endangered red-crowned crane, in China's Zhalong Nature Reserve.

"They are moving somewhere else because the environment there is getting hotter and hotter. It's a serious problem and we should take some actions to deal with it."

But, she added, many other students in her class "just don't care."

How could she and her group try to change that? "We can make posters, and when we are gathered for the flag raising [morning ceremony], when all the students are in the playground, we get a chance to tell them, to talk about it, to let them know."

"There's a lot of hope and willingness for positive change and action here," said Carissa Welton of Greening the Beige. "And I think the most beautiful part about today was that it showed how much of a growing movement there is amongst young people in China to do whatever they can for a cleaner, more sustainable environment."

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Photos by Alex Pasternack
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Tags: 350 | Beijing | China