During our first week at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, we were introduced to our fantastic team of Chinese colleagues with whom we would be working. We also met Susan Clayton from the College of Wooster, Ohio, one of the leading researchers in the field of environmental conservation. We quickly set to work in finalizing a survey for kindergarten to college-aged students to assess their level of environmental literacy. Questions referred to subjects such as: animal welfare, pollution, level of exposure to nature, use of energy, behavior around wild animals, and the importance of the conservation of natural resources. It was hypothesized that Chinese students might have more knowledge and awareness on the dangers of pollution in China than American students would have about pollution in the U.S. Although the Chinese students have daily reminders of the pollution in their country, they often do not know what they can do to help make their environment healthier. After assessing the environmental literacy of these students, the Research Base can have a better idea of how to create programs in the future that will better enrich knowledge of environmental conservation.
The following day, I went with Susan and a few of my colleagues to do a pilot study of the questionnaires at a middle school and university campus. The middle school was located in Chengdu and the principle was very pleased to have us. They welcomed us as the “panda experts” (as written on the electronic banner) and held a formal meeting to discuss the creation of a special educational program on the environment for their students. After lots of pictures and a lengthy conversation in Chinese, the students came to take the test. After the test, the students were allowed to ask us questions. To my surprise, a theme that came up quite often was money and how to balance economic development and the economy. The students were convinced that it was the government’s fault for the terrible pollution and the government was responsible for saving their country from environmental collapse. We explained that each individual is responsible for helping to create a clean and healthy environment. By using less resources, recycling, and spreading awareness of the dangers of pollution, each person can make a difference. Creating environmental consciousness can not only benefit a single country, but the entire world. For example, if Americans stop buying clothing or items made in China or other countries, we can help to reduce the factory pollution in that particular country.
It’s been fascinating to learn about the Chinese culture and systemic pressures of the government in relation to the environment. This culture is collectivistic in many ways and conservational education can help teach them that each and every person can help contribute to a healthier planet. Although Americans are quite individualistic, most forget or ignore our individual responsibilities in maintaining the earth. This internship has been a reminder that, as Americans, we must pay close attention to our own environmental pollution and how it is affecting our country. Although we are enjoying our clear blue skies right now, in the near future, it could all be gone because of the neglect of our land and natural resources. One thing that most Chinese people have is awareness of the pollution. It is rare that they are able to enjoy a day of blue skies. They told us that if they are every lucky enough to see the clear sky, there are pictures in the papers and on the internet. This was a wake up call to me. Soon, we could experience the same thing if we don’t start to actually take care of our environment and our animals. When nature and its animals are healthy, humans can be healthy. It is up to us to achieve this balance for the sake of health, happiness, and well-being for all that live on this planet.