Mobile Phones fuel protests on the environment in China

China’s poor stewardship of the environment in pursuit of economic gain has gotten to the point that the World Bank estimates that damage to the environment costs China 5.8% of its GDP annually. However, the costs of poor environmental stewardship are also political. China's leaders are starting to feel the wrath of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, as Chinese people rise up to protest polluted water and dangerous factories. Recent noted protests have been covered closely by the western media, the first in a New York Times article by Edward Wong over a multibillion dollar PetroChina plant in Chengdu and the second in the Economist over heavily polluted Tai Lake, the third largest lake in China.

These protests are significant, not only because the Chinese people are rejecting their government’s poor environmental record, but because of how they are organizing protests. These, like other political protests in Egypt and Tibet, are being put together by blogs and mobile phones. Mobile phones, especially, allow organizers to put together spur of the moment action in political issues in a way that the Chinese government cannot monitor in the same way it monitors the internet.

From the New York Times:

The recent protest, which was peaceful, was organized through Web sites, blogs and cellphone text messages, illustrating how some Chinese are using digital technology to start civic movements, which are usually banned by the police. Organizers also used text messages to publicize their cause nationally.

From the Economist:

The same internet and mobile-telephone technology that is helping China's angry young nationalists organise protests and boycotts is also helping other aggrieved citizens to unite. The past year has seen the first large-scale, middle-class protests in China over environmental issues: in the southern coastal city of Xiamen in June over the construction of a chemical factory, and in January this year in Shanghai over plans to extend a magnetic levitation train line.

These Chinese political organizers are developing a movement of their own, one that will ultimately make their government answer hard questions about democracy, human rights, and the environment. In large part, new technology, especially mobile, will be responsible. Simon Rosenberg recently wrote about the power of mobile to reduce global poverty, one of the many exciting broader applications for mobile technology that will be able to bring an improved standard of living to people in developing nations in every corner of the globe.