Our time on the Pearl River has come to an end.
I have to admit that the environmental status of the river is better than I ever thought. I’m happy about that, but part of me wanted to wallow in plastic, in a pile of plastic. Perhaps the message of how urgent it is for us to change would come louder to the eyes and ears of the people who followed me.
Since 2015 many improvements have been made, from environmental protection projects to waste and water management. Guangzhou, on the river delta, started trying to clean it some 15 years ago by improving the pipe network and removing silt from the river bed. I welcomed the great news that China has appointed more than 200.000 river chiefs, whose names and contact details are posted along the river. If a passer-by spots floating garbage, algal bloom or any other pollutant into the water, it’s their numbers they call. In just one hour’s walk in Guangzhou, I saw two small electric boats with operators onboard busy collecting waste with simple nets. I felt tenderness for those men, and it made me thinking of the power of small and repeated acts.
The Chinese ecological challenge is far from simple and requires commitment and determination. An exploding population, a sudden change in consumers habits, an attitude towards consumption and waste that, especially in more rural areas, tend not to place value on proper waste disposal, makes things harder to achieve. In the here and now of ecological crisis and climate change, it is easy to lose sight of vital signs of progress and to blame the “other”. Although China is often heavily criticized for its anti-ecological behaviour, is focusing on the battle for sustainability. A relatively poor country has made a conscious choice to shift its focus from the quantity to the quality of growth.
As for Folco and me, we are both exhausted, but satisfied and happy to have added a beautiful memory to our personal count of the experiences that bind us. The navigation ends here, but the 10rivers1ocean project continues. Keep following me.
See you soon, Alex