Celebrities in the west are gathering around environmental topics like never before. But China, which has been undergoing a slow but steady bout of green awareness-raising, has often lacked starpower in its struggle to protect the environment. Enter actress Gong Li, who this week submitted a proposal on environmental protection to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body that is holding its annual meeting this week in Beijing. Perhaps China's most famous woman, Gong, it turns out, has been an elected CPPCC member since 1998. "Things will become really terrible if we don't take environmental protection more seriously." She said her proposal underscored the urgency of the problems caused by garbage, sewage, and excess gas. "If I had the time, I would like to take pictures of those garbage heaps to make people aware of the dangers they pose," she said, referring to the pile-ups (much of it made of western trash) that poison China's air and groundwater. Gong's public outcry comes amidst continued laments from the country's leading environmental official, Pan Yue, who in January hosted a nationally-televised green "Oscars".The National People's Congress, also meeting this week, has been abuzz with talk about environmental protection. Said Premier Wen Jiabao, "We must make conserving energy, decreasing energy consumption, protecting the environment and using land intensively the breakthrough point and main fulcrum for changing the pattern of economic growth." A set of proposed laws urge greater recycling and conservation among the private sector, a crucial partner in China's sustainability campaign. Other laws will enhance the rights of pollution victims and remove the cap on industrial pollution fines, which currently rests at a meager 200,000 yuan ($25,000). While a much-needed revision to the country's environmental protection law is not on the docket, the law has been the subject of recent discussion, particularly for its continued lack of attention to the role of local governments and businesses in greening China's economy.
Getting everyone on board takes government muscle, and while officials appear to be flexing it more than ever, time will tell. But a full fledged turn of red to green will require a swell of public interest--the kind that Chinese government leaders wish they could command, the sort that Gong Li and other stars already do.
"If I had the chance to be an environmental image ambassador, I would love to take on that role," she said with a smile. Somebody, get this woman a job.