Photo: Protests give me hope for Canada and Hong Kong

(Credit: Pasu Au Yeung via Flickr)

By Winnie Hwo, Public Engagement Specialist

I started writing this blog to share some positive observations from my recent Chinese radio talk show about climate change. Then, Hong Kong happened!

By now, many Canadians have heard about Hong Kong's democracy protest. Thousands of students decided to let their passion for Hong Kong shine. They joined strangers and friends in the financial district for a peaceful rally. It was inspiring — some would even say refreshing, as Hong Kong residents have often been caricatured as materialistic, money-hungry and robotic.

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What has happened over the past week has changed everything!

Hong Kong's young people are showing us they are not afraid to stand up for what they are passionate about. The right to speak their minds are qualities we in Canada and the rest of the Western democratic world value! This is the same inherent right Canadian cousins of these Hong Kong youth have been enjoying since their families came to Canada.

According to a caller on a Chinese-language radio talk show in Vancouver this week, these young people are fighting for what we take for granted in Canada. The caller said we should stand with them and support them. My eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with emotion when I heard that.

There is nothing complicated about this message. We fight for what we treasure and love.

These young people have touched a nerve. The right to have a voice without being punished and labelled a delinquent is their inherent right, a right that should be universal and non-negotiable.

That brings me back to the blog I started off writing, about what I experienced last week on a popular one-hour Chinese-language radio talk show on climate change. It was the most vibrant and positive discussion about climate change that I have had with Chinese-Canadian callers.

In light of the recent UN climate summit in New York, Chinese-speaking callers flooded Fairchild Radio's phone lines because, for the first time, they wanted to share how much they know about our climate, which is changing mainly because of out-of-control carbon emissions in many industrial nations, especially the U.S. and China.

One caller shared a comment on how melting Arctic ice will cause serious impacts on our lives. Another suggested local governments should work harder to make recycling and waste management more user-friendly. The most interesting caller was Mr. Lau, who said he does not believe climate change is a human-caused environmental disaster. I replied by acknowledging his right to be a climate change denier, just as I am entitled to be a tree-hugger. But when he and other Canadians are slapped with huge insurance premiums or unable to insure their property because their houses are in extreme weather zones, it will be too late to do anything. As a colloquial Chinese saying goes, "Don't bother to hold on to Buddha's legs when it is too late!"

Amazingly, Mr. Lau called back before the show wrapped up and announced he is no longer a denier! In some ways and for a variety of reasons, immigrants are different from Canadians who are born here. But when it comes to fundamental values like protecting our families and providing our children with the best opportunities in life, we are all the same.

As clean-tech and clean energy continue to thrive and expand, and as corporations continue to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy, Canadian parents from all walks of life want their children to be prepared and be ready for a new world where everyone has a shot at a healthy and prosperous life.

As the mother of a college student, and a former resident of Hong Kong who now calls myself a Canadian, I see the parallel between the change that is happening in Hong Kong and the evolution of Canada's environmental movement.

For the first time in my adult life, I feel hopeful and confident that real change can happen if we are determined to make it happen. I welcome the awakening of my Hong Kong cousins who want more from life, for recognizing their inherent right to breathe and live freedom, just as I stand up for my right to live in a healthy environment in Canada. Although we are an ocean apart, we will work hard for what we believe.

October 3, 2014

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