HomeVolume 7April 2022 Meet a young climate activist

ENNAN QIU is a 15-year-old climate activist. Of Chinese and British descent, he has been living in Hong Kong for 11 years. In conversation with RACHEL NELSON of the Heartfulness Institute, he explains more about himself, his climate activism, and his hopes for the future.

Q: Hello Ennan, thanks for joining me. Can you tell me a bit more about yourself? 

EQ: My favorite thing to do is cycling, and I’m an advocate of plant-based eating. I’ve been involved in activism since August last year when my friend and I joined another young local climate activist who’s now left Hong Kong.  

Q: What prompted you to become a climate activist? 

EQ: I’ve cared about the environment since I was very young. In primary school, I wrote letters to the government and our parliament about Hong Kong’s waste problem and the incinerator they were building on a porpoise breeding ground. I’ve been vegan since I was 12 years old. Around that time I also went to the “Fridays For Future” Climate Strike here in Hong Kong in March 2019, which drew thousands of students.

What prompted me to become an activist was a feeling of helplessness about the lack of climate action here. Our government has a very low emission reduction target, and people eat 5.5 times as much meat as the international average. I have also felt despair and anger about how fishmongers in the markets break the law in plain sight and face no consequences. It’s a very common practice to throw fish on the dry counters to flop around violently, as some people consider that when they’re writhing in pain and moving so much they’re fresh and tasty.  

Q: You’ve been an activist longer than you think if you’ve been doing things since primary school.  

EQ: Yes, although I wasn’t drawn to any movements, really.   

Q: It’s clearly been something you’ve been thinking about for a while. So why is it important to help the climate?  

EQ: As the UN Secretary General and former Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, said, “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable that greenhouse gas emissions are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. We are still very much careering toward climate catastrophe.” 

Government emission reduction plans are nothing more than weak, undelivered, empty promises. The United Nations says that despite pledging to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world is on track for almost a 3-degree temperature rise by the end of the century, which would be nothing short of cataclysmic. This is an abdication of responsibility, and a betrayal of younger generations and all life on Earth.  

Q: Yes, we’re seeing the effects everywhere in the world. You mentioned some of the issues you have around veganism in Hong Kong; is there anything else specific to your region, which you are interested in changing?  

EQ: Earlier, I mentioned the barbaric abuse of animals in wet markets, but right now my fellow activists and I have started a campaign targeting McDonald’s, whose animal welfare policies have been rated as poor to very poor by the animal welfare charity, World Animal Protection. Our aim is to get McDonald’s to start serving vegan burgers and plant-based milk at every restaurant. Unbelievably, they still don’t do this, even though the vegan McPlant burger has been launched in the UK and oat milk is available at McDonald’s in Australia.  

Another aim is to get them to reduce their waste by providing reusable cutlery instead of takeaway cutlery and ketchup bottles for dining use. Greenpeace Hong Kong has found that McDonald’s gives out over 200,000 pieces of single-use plastic every day during a two-hour lunch span. 

Q: I didn’t know that. It’s another good reason to have these conversations with people from different places in the world.

EQ: Most McDonald’s don’t have it. They really need to work on that.  

Q: Can you tell us about Fridays For Future? 

EQ: Fridays For Future is a youth-led climate protest movement with local chapters all over the world. It started in 2018, when Greta Thunberg (who was 15 at the time) began her first school strike for climate action outside the Swedish parliament. She was fed up with the international community’s failure to treat the climate crisis as a crisis, and demanded urgent action to stop it’s catastrophic impacts. Fridays For Future is part of a new wave of change, along with a coalition of other groups around the world, inspiring millions of people to take action on the climate. Actually, our group isn’t officially affiliated with Fridays For Future, because the original Hong Kong group disbanded. We’re interested in reviving it, but we’re not yet registered with the official organization.   

Q: You mentioned that you have a few friends who work with you as climate activists. Does that help you stay more positive? Does it help you feel like you have more support? 

EQ: Definitely. I don’t think I could do much on my own. Together our voices are amplified and it’s harder for corporations and leaders to ignore us when we are more people. It’s also reassuring to know that there are other people who care, and we help each other stay on the same page.  

Q: You seem motivated and positive. Where do you think that comes from? Is it a result of working as a group or are you a motivated and positive person anyway?  

EQ: I’ve been motivated by all the information about the climate catastrophe, the suffering of animals, and factory farms, that compels me to act. To be honest, it’s not always easy to stay positive in the face of these problems. I guess we just have to remind ourselves that we’re doing the best we can with what we have, and feeling down or sad will not change anything or help in any way.  

Q: Do you feel like the burden of activism has fallen on the younger generations, while the older ones have caused many of the problems?  

EQ: I don’t blame everyone from the older generations, because I know that not all older people are responsible, and there are a lot of adults in the environmental movement. But I feel that we young people have a lot more to lose, and that is one of the main reasons why most activists are young.  

Q: You mentioned Greta Thunberg, and in the last few years many other young activists have stepped up to take ownership of their future. What would you like to see the people in power doing, and what are your hopes for the future?  

EQ: My main hope is for world leaders and the international community to wake up, put their differences aside, and formulate solid plans to tackle climate change.

I also hope that governments will take action on animal agriculture as well. It contributes as much to climate change as cars, planes, trains, buses, and ships combined. There’s been almost no action on this front, even though efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees are impossible without a drastic fall in meat consumption. We can all play a role by choosing to eat more plants and less meat. 

Q: Do you think the animal perspective pushed you into activism, leading to other environmental issues, or do you think it was a bit of both? 

EQ: I think it was a bit of both. Originally I was more interested in the environment, which is why I wrote letters to the government. Then, around 12 years old I became a vegan. One day we were walking at night-time and we heard a cow mooing continuously in pain, so we thought it was giving birth. My mom told me that dairy cows are forced to breed continuously to ensure a steady supply of milk. That’s when I started to learn about the connection between animal welfare and the environment. I learned how animal agriculture contributes to climate change, the pollution that’s caused by manure, and the cutting down of rainforests to make space for growing crops to feed the animals. So, I would say it’s a mixture of both. I care equally about both issues.  

Q: Did you get a reply from the government to your letters? 

EQ: Yes, I did. They wrote a long letter justifying all the reasons for the incinerator. I still have it somewhere.  

Q: What do the adults in your life think about your activism?

EQ: I would say most are supportive. Actually, one of our activists is an adult. Most adults know about the climate crisis and see the urgency in solving it. Most don’t like factory farming, which is the cramming of animals into cages and tiny pens to maximize efficiency, even if they aren’t vegan or vegetarian themselves. Some, like my parents, worry that I’ll get into trouble or offend people. That helps guide me away from doing things that a lot of people won’t like. 

Q: What would you like to do in future? Do you think you’ll go down the environmental activism route, or will it be something that you do on the side throughout your life? 

EQ: I’m not sure, but I am considering going into climate science or environmental science. I plan to study geography and biology when I start my IB Diploma next year, but aside from that I’m not sure what specific job I want to have.  

Q: You’re still young, and there’s a lot that can change, it’s just that you’re clearly very informed. Do you do a lot of research?  

EQ: I did a lot of research before my activism. I wrote articles for my school newspaper, and I did a few speeches. We had to do a speech in class so I chose this as my topic. 

Q: It’s a good topic. Do you have a message for young activists, climate activists in general, and everyone?  

My main message is not to feel sad.
And don’t give up hope,
because history has shown that we
are capable of surmounting big challenges.

EQ: My main message is not to feel sad. It’s good to be worried, but don’t let it take you over. And don’t give up hope, because history has shown that we are capable of surmounting big challenges. We created the United Nations, we adopted the Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Montreal Protocol that helped save the ozone layer, but averting this climate catastrophe will require more effort. It requires everyone to play their part.

Some things you can do are eat plant-based foods, even if it’s just one day a week or one meal a day, and drive and fly less. It’s better to stay local more often. Use less energy, and waste less. 

Q: That sounds good. As you say, everyone is living in different environments, but it’s hopefully something governments will look at and start to create better spaces for people. It’s not all on the individual. There are higher levels at work that can do more.  

EQ: I think it needs a coordinated effort.  

Q: Yes, definitely a coordinated effort. Thank you.

Interview by RACHEL NELSON


Ennan Qiu

Ennan Qiu

Ennan was born in Guangzhou, China, and lived in Singapore for a year before moving to Hong Kong when he was 4 years old. He and his friends protest most weeks, and have been interviewed by Greenpeace, the SCMP Young Post, and French magazi... Read More