The torch was lit for a different kind of relay leading up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Its a race where athletes dont compete, and everyone wins.
China's First "Green Olympics"
With two years remaining until China stages its first Green Olympics, Conservation International (CI) and the China Environment Culture Promotion Association (CECPA) have launched a movement to raise the level of conservation consciousness amongst the nations billion-plus populace.
The Olympics is an unparalleled opportunity to publicly highlight China's dedication to conserving the environment within the modern economic system, says CI Chairman and CEO Peter A. Seligmann.
Messages promoting sustainable living and responsible tourism are being broadcast in airports and railway stations across the country as part of the China: For Our Natural Splendor campaign, which kicked off at Peking University's Centennial Hall on November 15. The joint initiative drew support from more than 150 guests, including members of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, CI and CECPA staff, and Chinese actor Chen Peisi, who is famous for his comedic performances.
Making Conservation Relevant
For Our Natural Splendor is not only a campaign about nature conservation, it is also about the well-being of humans and our future generations, says Pan Yue, Vice Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), which works closely with the non-governmental CECPA.
In a nation that has the fastest growing economy and claims title to the worlds largest population conservation is sometimes misunderstood and overlooked. CI-China Director Zhi Lu describes conservation efforts in the country as little more than simple slogans and often perceived as irrelevant to people's daily lives.
To tackle these challenges, the campaign has set an ambitious agenda aimed at influencing the behaviors of urban Chinese and international Olympic spectators alike.
Messengers of Conservation
First, CI and CECPA will promote a carbon-neutral Games to heighten awareness about global climate change. For example, the campaign will advocate for people to offset personal emissions using the carbon calculator on CIs site, as well as secure promises from a million Chinese to give up driving their cars for one day.
At the individual level, the campaign will extol the benefits of adopting eco-friendly lifestyles and encourage the Chinese to reduce consumption of endangered wildlife, found in popular dishes such as turtle and shark fin soups, and traditional medicines containing tiger bones.
CI will also work with the private sector to establish a China Freshwater Conservation Fund prior to the start of the Games. The funds purpose is to improve access to freshwater resources, which is a critical problem in China, by supporting various watershed management activities.
Additionally, plans are under way for the five Olympic doll mascots, called Friendlies, to serve as messengers of conservation, and incorporate Chinas unique natural habitat into their animated designs. The mascots represent a natural area or species found only in China, such as the Tibetan antelope.
A Land of Diversity
It was Chinas startling landscape and unprecedented growth that spurred CI to set up a program there in 2002.
Ranking third in endemic plant diversity among the biodiversity hotspots, the Mountains of Southwest China Hotspot also harbors some of Chinas most recognizable mammals like the giant panda and golden monkey.
In addition to its stunning biological richness, the region is also home to incredible cultural diversity. Almost one third of the 55 ethnic minority groups in China live there. They remain faithful stewards of the land, placing a high value on resource management.
Tibetan Buddhists living in Sichuan province is one such group. CI is working with Tibetan monks to preserve certain natural sites, such as forests, lakes, and mountains that their religion deems sacred. The monasteries themselves patrol the sacred areas some of which are completely off-limits to people and protect them from hunters and poachers.
Record economic growth, while benefiting China enormously, has destroyed precious natural resources in its wake, threatening the livelihoods of those who depend on them. Fortunately, the Chinese government has placed a priority on environmental protection and invests heavily in projects for reforestation, pollution control, and efficient energy and water use. CI is collaborating with the government and other nonprofit and private sector groups to promote conservation efforts that elicit greater participation from local communities.
"We are now at a turning point to make conservation relevant to everyone," Lu says.
With the official Olympic relay set to cross through magnificent wilderness in the west, Chinas true natural splendor will be on display for all to see.