How I changed my mind about pollution

A #Pandas4GlobalGoals winner’s reflections on clean air, consumerism, and panda poop.

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Panda Road Primary school: where every student dreams of becoming a future Panda Champion.

Panda poop! I was covered in panda poop as Xinuo and I cleaned cages at the Panda Research Base in Chengdu. We were two among the seventeen Champions for the Global Goals who were invited from across the world to China, where we met our adorable panda ambassadors, Qiqi and Diandian, and gained an insight into animal conservation. Cleaning panda cages (and being covered in panda poop) were among the many fun activities we got the chance to take part in.

Our week long stay in the heart of China was truly an experience of a lifetime. From learning about the success of panda conservation to teaching elementary school children about the Global Goals, we exchanged as much knowledge and passion of promoting sustainable development as we could. Not to forget the food: Sichuan province is known for its spicy cuisine and hot tea which is the perfect combination to warm you up in the winter and makes for a sensational dining experience as well!

Fishing for pandas: watch me feed a panda an apple on live TV.

Giant pandas, however, are not the only animals that the Panda Research Base are protecting. The giant panda — as our fellow French Champion and researcher, Jerome, informed us — are what experts call an “umbrella species”. By protecting the habitats of the giant panda, we are also protecting the animals that they share these habitats with. These include rare and vulnerable species such as the golden monkey, takin and the red panda who are often ignored and therefore rely on their popular neighbour to keep them from harm.

We explored one of these wild panda habitats on our fifth day in Chengdu as we drove northwest from the city to Longchi National Forest Park, a.k.a. Panda Valley. Here, we were welcomed by scenic mountains, bamboo forests and of course, panda poop — but this time in the wild! As we braced ourselves in the snow layered in thick clothing (which made our movements mimic those of giant pandas themselves), we toured an outdoor enclosure where pandas who were bred in captivity are kept to prepare themselves for release.

Before getting back on the bus, I took a moment to admire the fresh mountain air and bask in the warm sun. This particular moment was special, and one I will probably look back on the most. You see, Chengdu, like many other big cities in China, is covered in thick clouds of grey for most parts of the year and the sight of a clear blue sky is almost unheard of.

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Fresh air and clear skies; I will never take you for granted again.

My initial response to this was that of dismay and frustration towards the locals who have allowed their indulgence to pollute the very environment they live in. But as we drove past the many factories and industries laid across the city on the way back to our hotel, I had an epiphany: China produces the most greenhouse gasses in the world because it produces the most goods. In fact, most of the products here in the UK, from the bus I take every morning to the very computer I’m typing this blog on, boasts the label “Made in China”.

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Emotional goodbyes.

We live in a globalised world which comes with its many great privileges, yes, but with great privilege also comes great responsibility. And as we bid farewell to our lovely hosts in China, I couldn’t help but feel responsible for the hardship they must endure because of our selfish over-consuming culture.

While getting on my plane back home to the UK, I vowed to become a more conscious consumer and spread the word about this important issue. Will you join me?


ABINAV BHATTACHAN is one of UNDP’s 17 Global Goals Champions that won the #Pandas4GlobalGoals competition and traveled to China in January 2017. Abinav was born in Nepal and is currently studying at the University of Leeds.

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