Interview: Meet the activist who brought the youth climate strike to China
The youth climate strike started when the then 15 year old Greta Thunberg decided to strike from her school in Sweden in August 2018. Since then, the movement has been making waves around the world. From Poland to Colombia, The United States to Japan, young people have taken action to bring attention to the climate catastrophe that is slowly unfolding around us.
But until late May 2019, the youth climate strike hadn’t reached China, the most populous nation on earth and currently the world’s largest emitter of CO2 gasses.
This changed when Howey Ou, a 16 year old climate activist from Guilin in south China, took matters into her own hands and followed the lead of thousands of other young people around the world in striking from her high school in Guilin to try to inspire action in China and help humanity avoid a climate catastrophe.
For humanity to have any chance of tackling the climate crisis, the Chinese government and people will have to act decisively and take a leading role. Almost one fifth of humanity is Chinese. While China has been taking a more active role in tackling climate change of late, for example by introducing drastic new measures to reduce air pollution, The People’s Republic of China like almost all other states around the world can and must do more.
Starting China’s climate strike
Howey started her strike to inspire further action in China on May 24th at The New Guilin People’s Government Building before moving to the Old Guilin People’s Government Building on May 26th. She announced her strike to the world on Twitter. Speaking to Bright Green, she said:
I want China to promise to take action to face the climate crisis immediately. I will protest until the Chinese Government make promises to take further action on the climate crisis, because everything is changing and getting worse all the time, and the situation is becoming more delicate all the time.
The reaction to her strike in China has been mixed, with some people admiring her action and others not understanding it. She said:
A few people who passed me on my strike said they admire my bravery and fight for justice, but most people could hardly understand, or have said ‘good luck’ without really knowing why. Others have told me to go back to school, while others think there’s something wrong with me.
Her parents and school teachers have had a similar reaction. She continued:
My parents were shocked at first, and tried to stop me. They thought it was dangerous and that I should be at school. Later, especially when the police became involved, my parents nearly shouted at me to stop because Chinese parade demonstration law forbids demonstrations without a permit from the People’s Security Bureau, and they were worried if I continued they might have to change their jobs.
My friends thought the same as my parents. They thought it was unsafe and might be negative for my development. Some people don’t think this will be well thought of in China, and that people in China will have a negative impression.
Howey had hoped to speak to officials from the Guilin people’s government, but their reaction to her strike was muted:
Almost no officials have noticed me because I had to strike in a pedestrian area where few people walk. One official suggested to me that it would be better to enter some sort of forum or official meeting so I could improve my impact.
Because of Chinese law, Howey had to cease her strike on May 31st and gain permission from the People’s Security Bureau to continue striking. Howey is going to apply for permission, and hopes to be able to continue her action to make people in China aware of the severity of the climate crisis. She said:
The police warned me not to demonstrate anymore but the law says that I can still demonstrate if I get permission. It takes about five days to get permission from the Guilin public security bureau but I’m not sure I’ll get permission because many people have told me that I definitely won’t get it.
However, I definitely can’t leave this crisis to others because it is our future and our only planet. I have been depressed about this for a long time. I will still keep on fighting to urge the politicians to take action on the climate crisis but I’m not sure I’ll still use the method of school strike in China. I haven’t applied for permission yet, but if I don’t get it I’m not sure what I’ll do next.
Howey hopes her action will help other Chinese people understand the seriousness of our situation. She continued:
Chinese people can hardly understand my behaviour, let alone join me! The reason there are so few demonstrations in China is because often they end negatively and environmental education is lacking, and people don’t pay much attention to what is happening outside of their daily lives.
I feel like there aren’t many experienced climate campaigners to help guide my action in China. I’m worried that politicians around the world aren’t going to make the right decisions on climate change to help balance the need for development with the needs of our planet.
I hope the world climate movement makes a constructive breakthrough in 2019, and I hope my small action in Guilin will help China to take even more action to help our planet.
Howey is thinking about her next steps, and hopes to be able to continue working to inspire the Chinese government to take a leading role in tackling the climate crisis, and help humanity avoid a climate catastrophe.