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Chinese frugal tradition helps global carbon fight

2009-12-17 08:54 BJT

Special Report: UN climate change conference in Copenhagen |

by Xinhua Writers Jiang Xufeng, Chen Yongrong

BEIJING, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- Zhao Jiagui, a farmer from central China's Henan Province, prefers the lights off when helping prepare dinner at a villa in Beijing's southern suburbs for her relatives.

"Why should I turn on the lights if I can see clearly enough?" she asks.

The 65-year-old is one of hundreds of millions elderly Chinese who continue their frugal ways in an era of fast economic growth and greatly improved living conditions.

For them, frugality means not only saving money but also cherishing precious daily resources. "Being able to afford the water bill does not mean you can waste water," He Shulan tells her daughter and son-in-law.

"Big cities like Beijing are short in natural resources like water, and we have no excuse to squander them," she says.

She has fitted all the lights in her Beijing home with energy-saving bulbs and habitually flushes the toilet with waste water from the kitchen.


More younger Chinese are also taking up the frugal ways to live low-carbon and energy-saving lives.

When Keke Quei hosts her weekly Sunday evening book club at her Shanghai villa, the arriving bookworms keep their jackets on.

Quei's central heating stays off, although the temperature in the 200-square-meter home is only 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

"I don't care about electricity bills, but the power saved. I turn off lights in vacant rooms because it is sensible," says Quei, chief executive of Shanghai-based Kinnogene Inc. a business consultancy firm.

"I don't have a car and don't plan to buy one. There are already so many cars in Shanghai, emitting so much exhaust and making people uncomfortable. And I don't want to add to the traffic," says club member Wang Qiong.

Wang walks, cycles or takes the subway.

Quei drives a Jeep Cherokee as an outdoor enthusiast, but she avoids driving whenever possible and plans to change to a smaller car next year.

"My car is not very fuel-efficient and taking public transportation for me to go around in Shanghai makes more sense," Quei says.

Quei's e-mails are all tagged "Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail."

Some city dwellers see frugality as an inconvenience, but Quei believes that a low-carbon living should be a philosophy.

Zhou Dadi, a researcher at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), says a low-carbon lifestyle is greatly conducive to energy saving and carbon cuts, and a change in living habits is inevitable to build a low-carbon society.

"A high-end lifestyle equals a high energy-consuming lifestyle. We don't need to live like monks, but a low-carbon life and the traditional Chinese virtue of frugality are commendable," Zhou says.

"The luxury lifestyles of some Westerners are unsustainable and must not be repeated in China," says Li Ang, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace China.

It's hard for the newly-affluent to take environmental actions on their own -- cutting out air-conditioning and motoring -- especially in a developing country like China, so such moves should be praised, Li says.


In the former "kingdom of bicycle" the cyclist is not king.

Li says city planners should endeavor to better protect cyclists' rights on their lane, which could help to ease traffic jam and save energy.

"If every Chinese can change a 60-watt incandescent bulb to an energy-efficient one, it can save the power volume generated annually by China's Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project, and prevent 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission," Li adds.

An energy efficient bulb can be up to 80 percent more efficient in electricity use than an incandescent one, Greenpeace figures show.

She says two thirds of China's light bulbs are incandescent, especially in rural areas, partly due to underfunding, as Chinese low-earning farmers are more price aware.

The government is stepping up low-carbon building construction, using energy-efficient construction materials and improving the metering and energy conservation of heating systems in northern China, says Wu Yong, an official with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

"China still has room in developing energy-efficient construction, to save more electricity, heating and water," says Zhang Zaidong, chairman of Tiptop International, a Beijing-based property firm that specializes in energy-efficient apartments.

The government announced last month that by 2020, the country's carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) will be reduced by 40 to 45 percent from the 2005 level.

"To achieve this aggressive goal, we cannot only rely on government efforts. Chinese people's commitment and environmental protection awareness also carry weight," the NDRC's Zhou Dadi says.

Editor: Zhang Ning | Source: Xinhua