I've been in China for the past few weeks for an environmental justice fellowship program funded by the State Department which brought together 18 fellows (9 from the US and 9 from China) to look at environmental justice issues in the US and China. The US portion of the trip took place earlier this summer over the course of three weeks in Vermont, Texas and Washington DC. That was a great experience and the China portion of the trip has proven to be even more insightful.
Last week the full group of fellows was in Beijing where we spent most of the week sitting down with environmental leaders in China discussing justice issues in China. This week I'm in northern Sichuan province (in Chengdu and Pingwu) which is over on the Western side of China near Tibet. A team of six fellows is spending the week working with a Chinese NGO, Shan Shui (mountains and water), that is working on payment for environmental services (a payment scheme that creates an incentive for maintaining a clean environment) in a way that preserves forested areas and traditional livelihoods through funds paid for by the government, conservation organizations and downstream users. We spent the day up at one of their project sites up in the mountains, in the Yujiashan Conservation Incentive Agreement Protected Area, meeting with community members doing various "sustainable" work like keeping bees, harvesting medicinal plants and non-timber items from the forest and small-scale farming. This area is particularly important because it's giant panda habitat and it feeds the headwaters of a river that supplies water for several thousand people.
I had an opportunity to see a four-day old panda this past weekend at Chengdu's Giant Panda Breeding Research Center and it was incredible. I've never really been an "animal" person or frankly understood "animal people" but after spending a day checking out the pandas I have a much better understanding of exactly why so many people are more into animals than people and find myself quite liking the furry creatures… Managing the land as Shan Shui is doing now has such a significant impact on water quality that supplies drinking water for many downstream. Protecting land and animals to better protect people is definitely something I can get behind.
They wouldn't allow pictures of the panda baby
Today's mountain visit – in the water shot, you'll see where the pristine protected tributary meets another that's been heavily polluted by mining, the snap from the great wall and dining.
The Chinese fellows have taken excellent care of us and the China portion of the trip has included too many powerful experiences to share. We're staying with Tibetan farmers tomorrow night who are also doing conservation work. This weekend we're going to see the Three Gorges Dam and then spend next week in Guangzhou. After that I'm officially on vacation for about 2.5 weeks. I'll be doing some hiking with a friend, Kara, in and around Shangrila (western China near Tibet) for the first bit then doing something entertaining the last bit (Tibet and Thailand are the front runners).
One of the most notable things here has been the food. Every meal is incredible. We're on the road this week and have been eating at rural restaurants which are large rooms attached to farmer's homes. Between that, the street food and regular restaurants I have yet to have a meal where I didn't end up stuffed, elated and somewhat depressed that American food and American Chinese food are no where near as good.