Lifestyle as important as industry in fighting climate change

09:34, January 15, 2010      

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The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference drew renewed world attention to emissions reduction, and put the focus on China, now the world's largest emitter. Some hold that without China's efforts, especially given how energy inefficient much of its economy is, no scheme can work.

Such a perspective seems reasonable at first, but can't bear further analysis. In developed countries, people shiver under air conditioners in summer, leave lights on overnight, live in bright and spacious houses, and buy large cars.

Some go fishing by air, some drive Mercedes to go body-building, and some consume imported luxury products. People in these countries live sumptuous "high-carbon" lifestyles, but regard themselves as "low-carbon representatives" for clean life and environmental protection.

In contrast, over 700 million people in China live in rural areas. Many live natural "low-carbon" lives, going out to work at sunrise and going back to rest at sunset. China's per capita carbon emissions are less than half of that in developed countries. And its carbon emissions are largely produced for basic subsistence. It's ludicrous that China has become the main focus for those looking to urgently reduce emissions.

It's true that emissions in developed countries are growing slowly. However, it's because they've basically built everything they need. Their population is no longer increasing and they are highly developed.

Meanwhile, they've transferred most high-carbon industries to the developing world. Therefore, difficulty of reducing carbon emissions is much smaller.

For developed countries, cutting carbon emission is merely a matter of attitude. However, the population in China is increasing and its economy is growing, and it's still accepting more orders from developed countries.

Also, due to its limited technological level and the current energy structure, it's not an easy task to reduce its total volume of emissions.

Many see the developed countries as playing a positive role in emissions reduction while China lags way behind.

But it's neither scientific nor fair to focus on current carbon emissions and ignore the division in lifestyles or the historical role of developed countries in creating the mess we're in.

Without vigorous advocation of a "low-carbon life" and the idea of practicing economy, challenges brought by climate changes cannot be solved. The tradition of an economical and environmentally friendly lifestyle goes back a long way in China. The I Ching has it that "A noble man adopts the morality of practicing economy to avoid disasters." The philosopher Mozi (468- 376 BC) proposed that "economy leads to prosperity and abuse leads to perishment."

And the Confucian scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200) said, "The growing of rice and of grain, think on this whenever you dine; Remember how silk is obtained, which keeps you warm and look fine."

Such beliefs have prompted many Chinese to lead environmentally friendly lifestyles, and in recent years, China has continuously emphasized saving energy and protecting the environment.

Living a simple and low-carbon life has become the rules in more and more Chinese families. Many Chinese citizens who make decent money still ride bikes to work, use old-style cell phones, go shopping with a sack rather than plastic bags, flush the toilet with recycled water, turn offlights when leaving the house and cut the power when getting off work.

China's use of solar energy is the greatest in the world, and it also makes strong use of wind power. The Chinese political leaders do not have an "Air Force One" equivalent yet, whereas the leaders of some countries often use seven or eight special planes. Advocating a low carbon lifestyle doesn't mean stopping development or even returning to a primitive society.

Instead, it means reducing unnecessary consumption and waste in modernization and endeavoring to change society into an environmentally friendly and resource-saving model. Only by emphasizing both a low carbon lifestyle and emissions reduction together can we stop climate change.

If others insist on setting an upper limit for China's carbon emissions and ask China to undertake unreasonable responsibility ahead of time, we should ask them to stop using half the cars and planes in their country first.

The author is a Beijing-based scholar. [email protected]

Source: Global Times
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