Green Guards

“Xi’an Marks the Spot: The state of China’s student activist movement” by Dongli Zhang and Nathan Myeth, Grist 17 October 2006

A fascinating article suggesting that the government is allowing – if not encouraging – the growth of a student-based environmental activist movement in China.

It makes sense for two reasons. First, it’s a relatively safe direction in which to channel the political discontent of China’s students. Second, it becomes a boogie-man the government can use to help bring to heel local officials whom, for reasons of self interest, refuse to strictly enforce environmental regulations.

All of which sounds good, and which promises to be interesting to watch. Best case scenario would be for these kids to do some real good in raising awareness, saving a few species, serving as hard-to-corrupt watchdogs, and perhaps even solving a serious problem or two. China could use it.

But political movements, no matter how benign their roots, can take unpredictable courses. I can’t help but be concerned that eventually a lot of these kids are either going to a) wind up in jail, b) wind up as tools of the government, c) wind up as pawns in a political struggle, or d) become a force of nationalism.

I hope not. I really hope this movement gets China thinking about cleaning up its environment the way the environmental activists in the U.S. managed to do during the late 1960s and the 1970s.