Liang Congjie, 74, is the founder and president of China’s first environmental NGO Friends of Nature. In November last year, he and four other environmental activists were given the Figures of Green China in 2005 award, the first awards for environmentalists sponsored by the central government and supported by the United Nations Environmental Program.
Accepting his award, Liang took the opportunity to spread his message. He said: “It’s an honor to receive this prize. I completely support the central government’s policy of building a resources-saving society. China has the world largest population which means per capita possession of resources is small.
"China's economy is developing rapidly and on a large scale. If we neglect conservation, sustainable development cannot be realized. Everyone has their part to play, and indeed, a resources-saving society can only come true if every piece of paper, every kilowatt-hour and every washbasin of water is used wisely by us now.”
Liang founded Friends of Nature (FON) in 1994. He has been dubbed “the soul of China’s non-governmental environmental protection.”
Two of the other award winners, Tian Guirong and Zhao Yongxin, are also members of FON. Tian Guirong, a farmer environmentalist, said that she received plenty of advice and assistance from Liang.
“A volunteers association in my hometown was set up with aid and guidance from Mr Liang. He donated a lot of popular science books,” Tian said.
When asked whether receiving the prize would help his work in the future, Liang answered frankly: “I don’t know. Maybe it will be helpful. Winning a prize doesn't concern me because I don't think it's crucial for environmental issues. I'm more concerned with the good faith that we depend on in carrying out non-governmental environmental activities.”
Liang said that the award signifies that the government has acknowledged the role of environmental NGOs, and he was pleased with that.
But he pointed out that recognition still lags far behind that given in developed countries. “For instance, we are often refused by primary and high schools in cities when we propose programs there. We need the support and assistance of government departments.”
He added: “I agree with giving the awards to NGOs or ordinary people who actively protect the environment. The awards would be meaningless if they were given to only governmental officials and celebrities.”
Having devoted himself to environmental issues for over ten years, Liang is cognizant of the difficulties and hardships connected with the career he chose.
“The environmental awareness levels of Chinese is still low, but except us Chinese, nobody can solve the environmental problems in China.”
This is why FON is focusing on educating the younger generation. “Many of our programs are focused on the primary schools in the impoverished western regions of China because we believe that only the youth of China with ‘green’ hearts can ensure that China has a green future,” Liang said.
(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, February 20, 2006)