Known as the world’s factory, China is a popular destination for investors from around the world keen to build production plants. These factories provide job opportunities for locals – but this often comes at the expense of the natural environment.
Factories release all kinds of toxins into the environment during the production process, contaminating water, air and soil. Ada Kong, Greenpeace campaigner for East Asia, is determined to help the nation find the right balance between development and environmental protection.
“Right now, environmental protection issues on the mainland are worrying. All government officials care about is GDP growth; they have no regard for the environment. My job is to lobby the authorities to pay more attention to the environment and unite civilians to protest against harming it,” Kong says.
But a campaigner must be an all-rounder. He or she needs to have a knowledge of science, excellent communication skills, and be physically fit. Kong divides her time between Hong Kong and the mainland. In Hong Kong, she works regular office hours to research environmental issues and come up with strategies to help save the environment. “We prefer campaigners with a science education background since we need to understand the various issues on how different toxics harm the environment,” Kong says, adding that the key to success as a campaigner is to have a caring heart for society and to be proactive.
“There is no one to assign work to you – you have to find out the issues that need to be tackled. A lot more has to be done to help the environment. It is always an uphill battle but all our hardship is worth it for the sake of the Earth,” Kong adds.
When Kong goes to the mainland, her work becomes much more demanding. “Sometimes we need to collect evidence of factories producing waste, so we wait all night by the side of the factory for waste to be disposed of. Sometimes we will host protests,” she says. “On one occasion, my colleagues and I entered the board meeting of a mainland sports products giant and got the board to pledge to stop using harmful chemicals in their products!”
Kong thinks that laws on the mainland for environmental protection are outdated and inadequate, and that at times the authorities simply ignore them. She hopes Hong Kong’s press freedom can help focus attention on mainland environmental issues. “I feel lucky to be in a place where there is press freedom, and that I am able to tell the world about the situations I have seen. This is really important in terms of raising awareness of the environment,” she says.