coal, environment, environmental justice, climate change, Oakland, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, APEN, families, pollution, health, clean air, immigrant, China, railroad worker, San Francisco Bay Area
Pan Hai Bo is a community leader with Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). Photo source: Screenshot of video by Breaktide Productions

Equal Voice

A Chinese Elder Speaks Up About the Environment, Coal and Families

November 19, 2018

By Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

Meet Pan Hai Bo, an immigrant leader, and learn about Oakland-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). He is a former railroad worker from China, who is concerned about coal and protecting the environment for families in the U.S.

When Pan Hai Bo first moved to Oakland in 1991, he thought it was paradise because of how clean the air was compared to his home city of Guangzhou, China.

“The air was so fresh,” says Pan Hai Bo. “It made me happy. This way people could live longer.”

Pan Hai Bo worked for 40 years as a locomotive engineer on coal trains in China. He knows firsthand the effects coal can have on workers and nearby communities. Because of his experience, he knows that coal dust can easily spread while in transportation, causing numerous health problems in nearby communities.

Video courtesy of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and Breaktide Productions

“Every city has a perennial wind direction of its own. I have not discovered it on U.S. maps, but on a lot of maps in China, there is a wind rose plot … It bears an arrow which points towards the direction the wind blows.” To Pan Hai Bo, it is this problem – the spreading of coal particles from nearby trains – that could threaten the clean air he loves so much about Oakland.

Right now, there are concerns about building, in Oakland, what could be the biggest coal terminal on the West Coast. But over the last few years, Pan Hai Bo and his community in Oakland’s Chinatown have been organizing to stand up for families.

“People have suffered so much pain. I have seen people die from coal. We cannot let Oakland, this beautiful, amazing city, be destroyed by coal,” insists Pan Hai Bo.

Pan Hai Bo is a leader with Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), an environmental justice organization with deep roots in California’s Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Since 1993, APEN has been building a membership base among Asian Americans in the Bay Area and working for clean air, good jobs and affordable housing.


Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and Breaktide Productions, which is owned and operated by women of color, produced this video. Breaktide Productions works to elevate underrepresented voices, both on and off camera. Jake Soiffer, APEN development and communications associate, wrote the text and assisted with the video. Rachel Lee Holstein, APEN development director, also provided assistance. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America.

A Chinese Elder Speaks Up About the Environment, Coal and Families