Ou Hongyi, who took part in the #FridaysforFuture protest, says she has been told she cannot return to school unless she stops her activism
As the first young person in China to engage in Greta Thunberg-inspired Fridays For Future climate strikes, Ou, 17, has become a target for the authorities who see that activism as a challenge to their control.
Ou claims she has been told by authorities to ditch her climate activism as a condition for her restarting studies at Guangxi Normal University affiliated high school in Guilin, where she studied until late 2018.
Ou, who also goes by the English name Howey, suspended her studies in December 2018 after being told she was “not suitable” for the international programme there and decided to study for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and US college admissions SAT test on her own.
But, following the wishes of her parents, and with dreams of pursuing higher education, she has been attempting in recent months to re-enter the school.
Her parents have been called several times by provincial education authorities, Ou told the Guardian, urging them to stop her climate activism and not to conduct interviews with foreign media.
Ou said her principal, Li Linbo, also told her in a meeting on 29 May that she must promise to end her climate activism before being readmitted, a claim corroborated by her father.
Several attempts to reach her principal, including calls to his office and personal number, as well as faxed questions, were not responded to.
“I don’t want to stop,” Ou said of her climate activism. “I want more people to know.”
Authorities also required Howey to have a psychological test before applying for readmission. “The only negative thing it said was I’m stubborn,” she said.
Ou Jun, her father, told the Guardian that her parents would not force her to give up her beliefs, but added that they were worried about her obsession and how it could derail her future. “She has anxiety about the climate,” he said. “We hope that she can graduate from high school, enter university, and hope that she can pay less attention to climate change issues.”
While currently the top global carbon dioxide emitter, China is expected to meet its Paris Agreement pledge of peaking carbon emissions at or before 2030. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has also put the development of an “ecological civilisation” at the core of his policies, which would appear to be a natural fit with Ou’s own obsessions.
It is not necessarily her concerns for the climate that have sparked a pressure campaign from authorities, Kecheng Fang, an assistant professor at the school of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Guardian.
“Most importantly, because it is about collective action,” he said. “No matter what kind of collective action it is, it’s considered highly sensitive.”
While expressing concern about climate change is not forbidden, there has been a narrowing of discourse on the subject, particularly if it calls into question the ambition of authorities, Fang said. “The underlying logic is that basically you can talk about those topics that are considered less sensitive, but it matters how you talk about it.”
While she waits to return to school, Ou has started her own initiative called Plant for Survival, whereby she is encouraging young people in China to plant more trees. From last November through to this January, the group planted more than 300 trees in and around Guilin.
City of Trees
April 17, 2020
FANTASTIC FORESTS Shahzad Qureshi is the founder of Urban Forest, a group that plants trees in Pakistan.
COURTESY URBAN FOREST
Karachi, Pakistan, is one of the hottest cities on Earth. In June 2015, more than 1,000 people died there during a heat wave, when temperatures reached nearly 113°F. “It was a terrible time,” Shahzad Qureshi told TIME for Kids. “We needed to do something about it.”
Following that heat wave, Qureshi took action. He started Urban Forest, a group that plants native trees, without the use of pesticides, in cities in Pakistan.
Trees help cool the air by providing shade and releasing moisture through their leaves. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they can help lower summer temperatures in cities by 2° to 9°F. The cooling ability of trees is crucial in cities, where concrete roads and buildings absorb large amounts of heat.
For its first project, Urban Forest planted about 1,300 trees in a park in Karachi. The group uses a method that helps the trees grow quickly. In just three years, the trees were 30 feet tall. Qureshi hopes that one day, this park will become a forest of 50,000 trees.
TREES, PLEASE Karachi Grammar School student Sophiya (left) gets help planting a tree.
Keeping Things Cool
Since 2015, Qureshi and his team have cooled the air by planting 14 urban forests in Pakistan, 12 of which are in Karachi. The trees also provide a habitat for a variety of animals. In addition, they provide food for the community and a place where people can kick back and relax.
In 2017, Qureshi helped plant an urban forest at Karachi Grammar School. He met with students to teach them about how trees help the environment. Then the students pitched in, helping to plant saplings in the schoolyard.
“They were excited about the project,” Muneeza Shaikhali says. She’s a headmistress at Karachi Grammar School. “They themselves had been experiencing the high temperatures in the summer months. And our school is not all air-conditioned.”
The trees attract birds and colorful butterflies. Students go outside during science class to study the forest. “It’s like a library of native trees in front of the kids all the time,” Qureshi says. “They can identify the native species, https://www.timeforkids.com/g56/city-of-trees-2/ugs, and insects that are around. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
Meet the Covid Class of 2020, born after 9/11, a generation bookended by tragedy.
Dear parents: would you like to critique and add your experiences to a draft of “Calm Parents and Children,” the partner for “Calm: How to Thrive in Challenging Times? It’s less than 50 pages. If so, please email me earthhavenchico at hotmail dot com.
Read the Full Transcript of Obama’s High School Commencement Speech
All of which means that you’re going to have to grow up faster than some generations. This pandemic has shaken up the status quo and laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seated problems — from massive economic inequality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it. It’s woken a lot of young people up to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don’t work; that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick; and that our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other.
It’s also pulled the curtain back on another hard truth, something that we all have to eventually accept once our childhood comes to an end. All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing? Turns out that they don’t have all the answers. A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions. So, if the world’s going to get better, it going to be up to you.
That realization may be kind of intimidating. But I hope it’s also inspiring. With all the challenges this country faces right now, nobody can tell you “no, you’re too young to understand” or “this is how it’s always been done.” Because with so much uncertainty, with everything suddenly up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape.
But if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself, even when it’s hard, even when its inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you. And you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves.
But the truth is that you don’t need us to tell you what to do.
Because in so many ways, you’ve already started to lead.
Congratulations, Class of 2020. Keep making us proud.