Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on October 7, 2009
There are many heroes behind the fight against global warming. Many of these heroes have a happy story to tell. Unfortunately not all of those who fight tooth and nail against government agencies and international organizations find themselves in the winner’s circle.
One of the saddest cases I’ve heard was profiled in a recent New York Times article. Mr. Wu Lihong., a former factory salesman from the Lake Tai area of China, is an eco-warrior. He dedicated 16 years of his life to trying to get the factories that were polluting the once beautiful lake to clean up the water and surrounding lands.
Lake Tai, China’s third largest lake, was once known for its crystal clear waters, whitefish, white shrimp and a famous Chinese delicacy, the hairy crab. The waters from the lake were used to irrigate rice patties as well as — through natural and man-made canals — provide a means of shipping out produce from the area. The Chinese also valued this area for its beauty.
Unfortunately, this year the lake was completely overtaken by fluorescent green pond scum. The horrid smell that accompanied it was so powerful that anyone within a mile’s distance was taken back by its strong odor. Over 2 million people who lived around this area were forced to stop drinking from this main source of water because of the pollution.
Mr. Wu, who years earlier worked hard to fight this inevitable upset, knew this outcome was the result of irresponsible actions by the local chemical plants and the governmental bureaucrats. The eruption of the algae occurred in May of this year, just after Mr. Wu was arrested by local authorities.
In the 1980s, the northern area of Lake Tai, with the support of the local government, became home to around 2,800 chemical plants. The 300 plants in the area where Mr. Wu lived were responsible for making adhesives, food additives and solvents. As a salesman for one of the local plants, Wu made a pretty penny. However, one night as Wu was walking, the smell in the air and the major changes in the area became apparent. The fish that once lived in the lake were gone and the stench made him sick. Wu decided to take action.
He began taking photographs of the factories dumping waste into the lake. In the beginning, these photographs were sent anonymously to environmental agencies. When no results were seen, he began including his contact information and inviting inspectors to contact him in regards to what was going on. While he was ignored by the locals, providential inspectors did get in touch, and Wu showed them his findings, which resulted in one the factories getting a heavy fine for its actions.
Wu was not satisfied. His internal fire ignited, he began working harder to stop the abuse to the lake and surrounding environment. By now local farmers had taken to wearing gloves while tending their rice patties because the irrigation water caused their skin to peel off. Between 1998 and 2006, Wu had reported over 200 incidences of regulatory violations and pollution to the environmental protection agency located in the local province. Despite intense opposition from some locals and the government, Wu continued his work to stop this crisis.
One afternoon as Wu was making his way to the local market to run some errands, he noticed a banner announcing a warrant for his arrest for “blackmail in the name of environmentalism”. Many speculated that this was merely an attempt to keep Wu from continuing his environmental work. After 2 weeks, Wu was released.
But he was not deterred. He began contacting Beijing authorities with a promise to deliver proof of the pollution being caused to the Lake Tai region. In April 2006, Wu had gathered enough evidence to show to the authorities; however, on the night of April 13th, dozens of police officials and state security officers raided Wu’s farmhouse, seizing the evidence. Prosecutors indicted Wu on two charges of blackmail. He was sentenced to three years.
But sometimes dedication and tragedy do lead to change. A friend of Wu’s stated that he had recently noticed several whitefish in a few of the canals surrounding Lake Tai — hopefully this is the start of something good.