Did you know that Hong Kong has her very own Greta Thunberg? Just 10 years old, Lance Lau has inspired many across the the city with his unerring commitment to climate activism. After making headlines when he started his weekly standalone Friday school climate strike, where he distributes sustainability pamphlets and introduces his peers to easy changes they can make, we wanted to get to know him better. Below is our exclusive interview with this brave, passionate young man, during which we discuss where he gets his perseverance from, how he became an activist, and his thoughts on everything from beach cleanups to Brazilian beef. From feeling like you have no power to make a difference to getting up and taking action, the bridge is Lance: read on for the ultimate inspiration.
GQ: Thank you so much for coming in to speak with us at Green Queen, Lance! We really appreciate it. Let’s get started: can you tell us a bit about yourself – where do you go to school, how old are you, what are some of your hobbies?
LL: So I’m 10 years old and I go to Ying Wah Primary School. I like trains and I am inspired by Greta to take action for the environment. I also really like hiking.
GQ: Could you tell us a little bit about what started your journey of activism for the planet?
LL: It was kind of since the first March student strike in Hong Kong, which I joined, and also the one in May. I went because when I first heard about Greta Thunberg – the amazing activist who even sailed a boat to America to not fly – I was really inspired. There was also a strike in Berlin, and I happened to be there at the time so I had a look. When I came back to Hong Kong, I decided I had to do something here when no one was striking anymore for climate change.
I’ve done 9 strikes so far. Every Friday morning, I get up earlier to stay outside the school and strike there. Every time, I try and do something interactive. Last time, I showed everyone a map of Hong Kong, and let them know how close we are to our homes being flooded by 2050. I’m telling them how to make enzymes at home for cleaning. Every week, there is a different message.
GQ: So which out of the different themed strikes that you’ve done was the most engaging for your peers?
LL: I’ve seen many people use the bamboo straws I gave them around school. But it’s best to talk to people about things related to them, like the flooding. I should talk about Amazon deforestation and beef consumption in Hong Kong next. I want to make people listen, and people usually think when its happening far away that it won’t affect them, so I have to talk about how it is happening right here.
GQ: We – like many others – were so inspired by your standalone strike for climate change, but we happen to know that you’re quite the eco-warrior and have done other things for the planet. Can you tell us more about the other environmental activities are you engaged in?
LL: Apart from striking, I have also done some beach cleanups. I think I have done around 4 or 5 right now, but I’m about to organise another one. Most of them have been based in Tung Chung, and I want to start doing them elsewhere around Hong Kong too.
In my school, I’m pushing for a change in lunch boxes. They’re still using plastic boxes that are only being reused 5 times. Then they have to throw it away, and those boxes taste a bit like plastic too. So I’m getting them to change to either paper boxes, or permanent ones. We’re thinking to introduce the cost of those boxes soon to the principal, and the good and bad of all the available options.
Another thing is, I want the school to start using biological enzymes for cleaning the school grounds. Instead of using the ones made in factories and bought from the supermarket, they can just use ones made easily at home. The school teacher said they are willing to do it in the second half of this school year.
GQ: What were some of the key challenges you had to face, and how did you manage to overcome them?
LL: I’ve always been good at public speaking, so that wasn’t too much of an issue. But in the first weeks, some people would call me bad names. Though now, they are doing it less and less. By week 3 or 4, most people would just walk by me, and even some people have talked about my speeches or have made some behavioural changes.
GQ: Did those comments ever affect you? How do you handle it?
LL: They don’t affect me. Because I just continue on. I don’t care what they say. I care about the people who are helping me, like one person who helped me give out my pamphlets and bamboo straws so people would stop using single-use plastic ones.
Sometimes, I get a bit mad in a matter of seconds when someone says something mean. Like some kids call me names like “toilet head” and I really can’t tolerate it. But when it comes to the planet, it doesn’t affect me. Even when they don’t respond to me during my morning assembly speeches for climate change, I continue on.
GQ: What other things do you try and do in your everyday life to lessen your footprint on the planet? Which eco-habit was the hardest to adopt, and why?
LL: There are a lot of things. When I travel, I try to minimise flying and I mostly take trains. My mum also gets a little bit carsick, so we take trains more than buses too. And eating less meat, especially beef. I’ve already stopped eating beef for a while now. Another thing is bringing our own boxes and bags to wet markets, and making cleaning enzymes at home with orange peels. Reducing emissions in any way. The most difficult thing? Going completely vegan is very hard for me, so I’m still on that journey.
GQ: If you could convince every single person in Hong Kong to adopt one planet-friendly habit, what would it be?
LL: I would say, drive less cars and eat less meat. There are already so many cars on the roads in Hong Kong, causing lots of emissions and air pollution, and only 150 days or so do we have clear skies. The problem about meat is that Hong Kong imports mostly Brazilian meat, and farmers there are burning forest land to build cow farms. Now the fires are really out of control, and Hong Kong imports the most Brazilian beef! More than mainland China! It’s just our little tiny city of Hong Kong that are eating 24% of beef from there! So out of the many things Hong Kong could do right now, cutting beef out is one of the most important things.
GQ: We’ve called you Hong Kong’s very own Greta Thunberg. So as a student activist leader, do you have any advice for other young students out there who are taking action for climate change?
LL: Some of the people may be scared right now, I understand. But the striking in front of your school or in a safe place could really help. It could spur more climate strikes again in the city. So we all need to do it.
GQ: In your opinion, how much awareness about environmental issues like climate change is there amongst the young generation in Hong Kong?
LL: I’d say that among Hong Kong’s young generation, there is quite a bit. The turnout was 1,000 or so people in the March student strike. But though some are well informed, it seems to be mostly those kids that are not from here, [the expats]. Less Chinese people know about the strikes. So me and my mum are trying to break the barrier, and it’s lucky I go to a local school. We try and translate some information into Chinese and I also bring out Chinese signs.
GQ: If you could tell the authorities to make one policy change to make Hong Kong more environmentally friendly, what would it be?
LL: One is to install more solar panels. And secondly, to have a better recycling system. Right now, trash is just going to the landfill. I don’t think current recycling works. There are only a few organisations helping, and the rest of the rubbish is either ending up in illegal roadside dumps or in landfills. Oh, and to push for more food composting!
GQ: Why are you so different from most youths in the city? Not many are so actively striking for the climate in Hong Kong.
LL: I think it’s mostly thanks to my parents, who have made me quite aware about the planet’s issues, so I was more exposed to these movements. I guess the others are not as exposed. What really makes me get up and do something? I’m not that sure. Maybe because it’s now a bad future, or no future at all.
GQ: Is this what you want to do as your life mission? To save the planet?
LL: Yes, why not? I want my future. That is the reason why I’m doing it.
GQ: You don’t seem angry or hopeless. Considering you spend so much time thinking about the future, how do you stay positive and hopeful?
LL: The scientists are telling us if we act now, we have a teeny tiny bit of time. I believe that we can change.
GQ: What do you think is the number one way to get us all to change?
LL: It’s like the Chinese saying: 一傳十，十傳百 (yat chuen sap, sap chuen baak), meaning literally that one tells ten, and those ten will tell a hundred people. And so we just need more people telling others to take action, to live green. If you really love your children, why are you destroying the world?
GQ: Final question: team rice or team noodles?
Lead image courtesy of Green Queen.