People and Nature in China

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

We hear and see a lot about the air pollution in Chinese cities, but what we don’t hear about is the rising environmental awareness that such problems inspire or the long range plans that China has to bring people and nature together.  These efforts are exemplified in the second China Nature Education Forum (CNEF) that was held in Liangzhu Cultural Village and the Student Conference on Conservation Sciences (SCCS) held in Beijing, both last November.

It’s not surprising that once people have food, clothing, shelter, security and the niceties that a booming economy brings, they begin to think about the consequences of their rising good fortune and the potential effects upon their health and the health of the environment around them.

“Ever since we entered the 21st century, the rapid population growth, global economy development, the extending of human ecological footprint and a series of climate and environment problems brought by it have gradually become a threat for the living of human beings. At the meantime, people in an increasing number have realized that sustainable development and ecological civilization are the inevitable demand and historical selection for human society.” — Chinese Student Conference on Conservation Sciences

National Parks in China

A 2012 article in Ambio (Ambio. 2012 Mar; 41(3): 247–261.) discussed the “political, institutional, legal, environmental, and economic issues concerning National Parks in China, and examines their potential future development.”  Since 1982 when the first modern national park was established in China, the country has established 1,865 areas that are the equivalent of national parks.  The creation of these parks came about under pressure of a growing middle class that wants to recreate and has concerns about depletion of natural resources.

If these motivations sound familiar, perhaps you experienced the birth of the modern environmental movement in the U.S. in 1960’s and 70’s.  What is happening now in China is driven by the same motivations as drove that environmental movement 50 years ago.  While it may seem surprising, it really shouldn’t be: people everywhere want the same things out of life.  While the issues and the methods to deal with those issues differ around the would, the ultimate goals are the same.

Zhangjiajie elevatorIn the U.S., the environmental movement, even today, continually faces competing economic objectives.  The situation is no different in China.  The growth in national parks in China was born in this environment.  Besides habitat protection and recreation for local residents,  the national parks in China are also intended to encourage ecotourism.  That is,  recreational visitation by non-locals that brings economic benefits without degrading the available resources.

China has had varying success in achieving those two goals of ecotourism simultaneously as can be seen in the wilderness nature of  Zhangjiajie National Forest Park displayed in the photo at the top of this page (Photo Credit: By chensiyuan – GFDL via Wikimedia Commons ) and the man-made structure, an elevator, in the photo to the right, from the same national park (Photo Credit: by Bobohk2 – just travel there needless to say. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons).  Ultimately, success will be measured in the way China is able to provide suitable places for the rapidly growing demand for outdoor recreation there and thus bring people to nature in the most positive way possible.

Nature Education

Yan Baohua, Deputy Secretary in General, Shenzhen Mangrove Foundation, as a guest writer for The New Nature Movement in a December 2014 article cites the same kinds of pressures for enhanced nature education as drives the national parks in China.  Nature educators are exploring various avenues to serve the growing demand for the knowledge they can offer.

While the environmental movement in the U.S. was initially fronted by protestors, behind the scenes was a growing cadre of students being educated in a wide array of environmental studies from engineering to wildlife.  In China a similar cadre of conservation sciences experts and nature educators is being developed.  These students are moving out into new jobs with government and private entities, nature education institutions or creating their own organizations.

“Although the field of nature education is growing quickly and has great prospects for the future, it is still new and small. The annual Nature Education Forum, initiated by the nature education practitioners, will provide a platform to connect with researchers, funders, governmental officials, and of course their peers.” — Yan Baohua

The Connection

As you can see, China is providing the places for people to encounter nature and developing the educational structure needed to help people make their nature encounters positive.  The country has a long way to go, but seems to be on a good path.

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