Yang Chu, China Program Associate at Pacific Environment, sat down with Zhao Zhong, a Pacific Environment partner and Time Environmental Hero of the Year.

Zhao Zhong, tell us about how you became an environmental activist in China, and why you chose Gansu Province as your base.

I’ve always been a mountaineering enthusiast. In my travels I saw beautiful sceneries but also serious environmental problems. I felt I should do something, and started by picking up garbage in my hikes. After graduating from University I moved to Gansu for a position with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. There, I saw declining ecosystems and a lack of NGO presence, so I established Green Camel Bell. Now I am a full time environmentalist.

What are your thoughts on being named a 2009 Hero of the Environment by Time Magazine, and what impact do you foresee this honor having on your cause?

So many other environmentalists also deserve this honor, so many have contributed as much or more than me. My own contributions are made possible by the Green Camel Bell team. Perhaps more volunteers will join us now from abroad, and we will receive more attention from researchers and the media. Time Magazine named me a hero for water pollution monitoring, but the work of Green Camel Bell is more than that – I will continue to focus on supporting rural communities and developing NGOs.

What advice do you have for those in China, and the rest of the world, who want to follow in your footsteps and work for environmental protection in their own communities?

Everyone has what it takes to go into environmental protection. Everyone can be a hero of the environment.

What immediate plans do you have for yourself and your organization? Where do you see yourself decades from now, and what will you be doing?

In the immediate future I’ll be completing two projects, from the World Bank and the Ford Foundation, which will have me working in rural communities for much of my time. I’m also improving the operations at Green Camel Bell, to make the organization run more smoothly and sustainably. As for the distant future, it’s hard to see years into the future, everything is changing so fast.