Photos and Video by Luke Duggleby
Hong Hoang, Inspiring Vietnam’s Youth
As the 350.org East/Southeast Asia Coordinator, Hong Hoang organizes youth movements in Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.
In Vietnam, homeowners paint their roofs white to reflect heat and reduce the need for air conditioning. Over 500 students, media representatives, and government members reunite in Ho Chi Minh City for the launch of a two-month Green Consumption Campaign, sampling eco-friendly products and watching a fashion show with clothing made of recycled materials. These are some of the initiatives under the leadership of Hong Hoang, Vietnam’s 350.org leader.
From pop singer shows to public demonstrations and student organizations, countless climate change efforts have spawned from the international environmental organization 350.org, founded in 2007 by American environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben. Hoang is such example of the global reach and impact of 350.org. An environmental activist for 17 years, she is responsible for coordinating 350.org activities in Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Myanmar, and Thailand.
Her beginning with the environmental movement was rather atypical. In 1997, Hoang worked for a big newspaper. She loved all the free time spent going to parties and hanging out with friends, but felt she lacked a sense of purpose. Later that year, she received an invitation to join a UNESCO expedition team of 35 youth from 25 countries to travel to Antartica. At the age of 24, Hoang became the first Vietnamese person to set foot on the Antarctic Peninsula.
This trip to the world’s most remote natural ecosystem changed her life. For the first time, she met people who were passionate about a cause. After falling in love with Antarctica’s pristine white seascapes, she quit her job, took on volunteer positions, and started delivering speeches about climate change to schools and youth groups.
“It’s very difficult to change old people’s minds, so that’s why I start with the younger generation. So we organize workshops, we go to universities, we give lectures – fun ones – to prove that environmental protection, or climate mitigation, can be fun.” Her hand and facial expressions grow animated, as she talks about the mobilizing people to take action. “We started small and became bigger,” describes Hoang.
Realizing that scientific facts alone do not necessarily engage Millennials, Hoang actively uses Facebook and Twitter to reach out to students.
For example, to send a message to COP19, she worked with a group of volunteers and a helicopter crew for two days in 95-degree weather to spell out the letters CO2 for a photo campaign. With a Facebook profile picture of herself jumping in front of a Power Shift poster, Hoang exudes youthfulness.
Her energy is also matches the pace at which 350.org has grown since its founding. So far, the movement globally has partnered with 300 organizations around the world, mobilizing large-scale events, such as the International Day of Climate Action in 2009, the Global Work Party in 2010, Moving Planet in 2011, and Climate Impacts Day in 2012.
When reflecting on why she devotes her life to involving youth in conservation efforts, Hoang remembers a favorite quote from her Antarctic expedition leader Robert Swan: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
350.org works bottom-up by mobilizing local people for specific climate change campaigns. Find your local chapter to get involved here.
In 2007, author Bill McKibben envisioned a grassroots platform that would use mass human movements, organizing, and online campaigns to fight against fossil fuels. He called his idea 350.org. Today, 350.org is one of the most pro-active international organizations with over 300 institutional allies. Many leaders in politics, science, and media have followed McKibben’s lead and embraced 350 parts per million as the safe atmospheric carbon concentration. As the 350.org East/Southeast Asia Coordinator, Hong Hoang organizes youth movements in Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. She believes in tapping the energy and power of young people through developing climate leadership and using new outreach strategies like social media.