Competition in an online poll to elect China's top 5 environmentalists is heating up.
Voters are currently faced with a shortlist of 20 nominees, but by the end of the month five will have been selected as China's Green Figures of 2005.
The list of 20 candidates came out last week, based on 35,823 Internet votes, letters and phone calls to the organizing committee.
The five winners will be announced at the opening ceremony of China's Environmental Cultural Festival at the end of this month .
"The prize of China's Green Figures is a prize for common citizens, who make great contributions to environmental protection," said Pan Yue, vice-minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration.
"The vote is decided by the public, to encourage more people to engage in the environmental cause," Pan said.
"Environmental protection needs the participation of all citizens. Anyone, no matter who they are, can contribute to the cause."
Tian Guirong, a farmer-turned battery seller, is one of the nominees.
"When I read a 1998 report about pollution caused by the improper disposal of waste batteries, I was shocked," she told People's Daily.
"I asked myself how much land and water would be polluted by the 3 million batteries I sold every year?"
Tian, in her 50s, lives in Xinxiang, central China's Henan Province. Since 1998, she has voluntarily collected waste batteries.
At a personal cost of around 200,000 yuan (US$24,700), she has collected 65 tons of waste batteries, which have been transferred to the environmental protection bureau of Henan Province for proper storage and disposal.
Other candidates on the list include:
Liang Congjie who founded Friends of Nature, China's first environmental non-governmental organization to control desertification in the Alxa area of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Yuan Xueshun, who has protected swans for more than 30 years.
Zhao Yongxin, the first person to publicize the environmental problems at Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace.
When asked how it felt to be listed as a candidate last week, Song Jun, a member of the Alxa SEE Ecological Association, said that he did not even know his association had been nominated.
Another candidate, Liu Jianqiang, a reporter from Southern Weekend who has covered many important environmental issues, said he was just doing his job and never expected to be nominated.
"I don't think it matters who wins. Spreading the spirit of environmental protection is the important thing," Liu said.
Ma Lijun from the China Environmental Culture Promotion Association, the organizer of the election, is looking for greater public support.
"Public participation in the election is still not enough. Public awareness and knowledge about environmental protection need to be further strengthened," he said.
(China Daily November 14, 2005)