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Hometown hero: Lance Lau is Lantau’s Greta Thunberg

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Ten-year-old Tung Chung resident Lance Lau is picking up the extinction rebellion torch for Hong Kong as our own Greta Thunberg. Elizabeth Kerr reports

At first glance, P5 student Lance Lau looks like your average Hong Kong primary school student. He also has a P5er’s energy, constantly looking around the food court in the new Citygate extension, but never letting his attention stray. It soon becomes clear Lance is probably sizing up his surroundings for environmental transgressions he can lobby management about correcting. To say Lance is invested in his future is an understatement.

Lance is leading by example as part of the local climate change activist community, inspired in large part by Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, Swedish student Greta Thunberg. The young eco warrior who’s been personally attacked and belittled for her climate change awareness campaign by the likes of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Jair Bolsonaro, has become a beacon of action among under-18s globally, including Lance, because in his words, he doesn’t want to die.

“I was inspired by Greta,” Lance says. “She called a global strike for the climate in March last year and I thought, ‘Yeah, I have to do something.’ I attended the strike in Central, led by Climate Action Hong Kong.”

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is where it all began. When Climate Action Hong Kong (the teen-led movement) decided it was too dangerous to strike again in September 2019, at the mass rally in Central, Lance opted to go it alone. “My first solo strike was on September 13 last year, inside my school,” he explains. “I made a sign and walked around the school. I got caught by a teacher but I didn’t go to class that day. I was in a separate room planning for green actions instead.”

School strikes for the climate

Moving into 2020, Lance is more determined than ever to continue his work, which for the time being is focused on beach clean-ups, harassing friends and family about their consumption and striking for the climate for an hour outside his school every Friday. As of January 20, these strikes have been going on for 13 weeks outside Ying Wa Primary in Sham Shui Po.

An average strike day for Lance starts with him leaving his Tung Chung home extra early, at 7am. He picks up the educational materials he makes himself and stores in the school counsellor’s office – who, according to Lance, “doesn’t mind. I just barge in every Friday and grab my signs” – and sets up in front of the school gates. Then he proceeds to do what he can to inform passers-by – mostly adults – about the dangers of climate change. He points out the parts of Hong Kong that will be underwater in a decade if things don’t change; that only 1% of Hong Kong’s power comes from renewables; that our own behaviours are the root of the problem. It’s a slow process but Lance is happy to bear the burden. Kids are more woke than the rest of us, so it would be logical to expect that Lance gets plenty of back-up from fellow students on strike days, but that’s sadly not the case. “I strike solo,” he says. “It’s just me.”

Lance isn’t totally alone, though. He gets support from his dad, who stands with him when he can, a handful of teachers at the school and his mum, Martina Yu, a photographer, who’s sitting beside him during this interview, occasionally adding a comment. For the most part Martina sits and listens, letting her gregarious 10-year-old take the lead. Lance really doesn’t need her help, but he’ll take it just the same. “I’m an only child, so she can focus on helping me with my stuff,” he says with a boisterous laugh. “If I had brothers or sisters, she’d have to care for them too.” He’s still laughing as Mum can only offer a smirk, somewhere between amused disbelief and pride.

Being the change

Lance has a curious laser focus on his mission and, when it comes to the environment, he practices what he preaches. “I joined my first Lantau beach clean-up with Eco Marine in May last year and I got talking to the founder Keilem Ng. She invited me to co-host monthly clean-ups with Eco Marine,” Lance says. “The government provides bags and gloves, and picks up the collected garbage afterwards because it will exceed 100 kilogrammes every time.”

Lance has some advice for people looking to organise their own beach clean-ups. “There are Facebook groups, like Hong Kong Cleanup, that you can join to learn how to do it,” he says. “And remember to make it fun; use the clean-up to build a community that loves the planet and all living things in it.”

Like Greta, Lance is totally unapologetic about evangelising. “If I want to buy something with a plastic package on it, he’ll pull me away,” chimes in Martina. He lectures his friends about eating beef, but is able to laugh at their occasional scoffing. He takes the boos in his stride, like the ones that followed a talk he gave at school (at the school’s request) outlining what climate change is, why we need to take action now and what we can do personally.

No one is too small to make a difference

Lance, with Martina as an ally, admits environmentalism – sustainability, reducing our carbon footprints, going vegan, all of it – is hard, particularly given the collective lifestyle we don’t want to give up. “Milk itself is easy to give up, but milk tea, and pastries, and cake, and ice cream…” he trails off. Add reducing the amount we fly and buying fewer clothes (fast fashion and the consumption economy wheel it’s a cog in, is a killer), and it’s easy to predict the challenges. But Lance is quick to point out that everyone’s baby steps add up to a greater whole. “It is hard, so don’t try to be perfect. Be what you can be. Do what you can.”

So, what can we do? One: eat less meat. “Hong Kong imports more Brazilian beef than China, and Brazilians are burning down the Amazon to help,” Lance rails. Two: reduce our reliance on cars. And three: eliminate single-use plastics. “Just ban them. They’re useless, they’re bad for the environment,” Lance says. “And you have Coca-Cola boasting about making a few bottles from bottles taken from the sea. Why are you using rubbish to make more rubbish? That’s called greenwashing!” Seriously, we need to get this kid in front of a crowd.

At the ripe old age of 10, Lance admits a lot could change for him in the next few years, but as of right now he’s toying with the idea of a future in green architecture and sustainable development. He’s reasonably confident that people are waking up to our looming climate catastrophe, and is thrilled that youth activism – extinction rebellion – is getting the message across.

Why is this so near and dear to Lance’s heart? “Well. I don’t want to lose my future, do I?” From the mouths of babes.

Join Fridays for Future Hong Kong on Facebook for Lance’s latest strike and beach clean-up updates.

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