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Making low-carbon lifestyles livable

Updated: 2013-11-27 20:03
By Ni Wei (

Chang Jiang, an assistant professor with the school of journalism at Renmin University of China, revealed on his micro blog recently his new commitment to taking the subway to work on a regular basis.

With more than 65,000 followers, his micro blog message was well distributed.

“I want to promote an eco-friendly, low-carbon lifestyle,” the professor told China Daily.

However, despite his good intentions, Chang soon found his enthusiasm waning, and not just because of the overcrowding on the subway during peak hours.

“Taking the subway is very convenient and frees me from the long periods spent in traffic jams, but I felt uncomfortable,” he said.

“What bugs me most is that many people don’t follow the rules and appear very indifferent. It is an undignified way to commute.”

Chang’s experience is just one example of a common phenomenon. Residents of Beijing often make some effort to live a more eco-friendly, low-carbon lifestyle, but find themselves either discouraged or positively thwarted by events.

In the case of Chang, the problem is a collection of details that make his new, low-carbon mode of transportation less than enjoyable. For others, there may be more obvious and potentially harmful obstacles in the way.

Liu Peng, a cycling enthusiast and bicycle repairman, told China Daily that he finds cycling in Beijing difficult and even hazardous.

“Most of the streets here don’t have dedicated bicycle lanes,” he said.

Riding to and from work cuts down on Liu’s carbon footprint, but weaving through the traffic during rush hour is far from safe.

Many would argue that greater efforts are needed on the part of the government to make low-carbon lifestyle choices more appealing to the general public, and that such efforts should be supported in environmental legislation.

In late October the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress met to discuss the Third Draft Amendment of the Environmental Protection Law, which has changed little in the past decade.

The main purpose of the draft is to strengthen penalties against polluters and allow a wider range of entities to file lawsuits in pollution cases.

However, while the draft maintains the principle of “public participation”, as proposed by the Second Draft Amendment, it does little to make low-carbon lifestyles more appealing or workable for ordinary people.

Gu Shengzu, a member of the Standing Committee said that amendments to the law should strengthen the hand of those “third parties” who seek to tackle environmental issues, particularly pollution, beefing up their roles and responsibilities.

“Our main responsible parties currently are the government and companies. That is why this law was considered soft,” said Gu.

Gu said the solution is to encourage the public to supervise both the government and companies, thus making the law tougher. While the amendment is still under consideration, it seems at least to be heading in the right direction, at least so far as pollution is concerned.

But policymakers also need to explore new areas for legislation and policy, going beyond the battle against pollution, to facilitate low-carbon lifestyle options in every corner of life.

For example, cycling to work might be a more appealing option if cycle lanes were redesigned to exclude both motor vehicles and pedestrians. Cycle lanes should be of a suitable width with no steps or curbs blocking the way, and interaction with cars, buses and trucks should be kept to a minimum.

Traveling on the subway could be made more appealing by ensuring that passengers follow those rules designed to make everyone’s journey pleasant. The general environment could be made more appealing, perhaps with potted plants and other facilities, while advertising campaigns could encourage greater use of subways for the daily commute.

While large-scale efforts to curb pollution are certainly welcome, the government can achieve a great deal simply by supporting “public participation” through various small-scale improvements that affect our lives.

Meanwhile, individuals can do their bit by walking to work more often, turning the air-conditioning down a notch during the summer, using plastic bags and disposable chopsticks less. These are changes within everyone’s reach, and it’s natural that we should make such choices if we care about our environment.

Of course, such efforts will be more effective if more people get involved, and the media can make a huge impact in this respect, highlighting green options and encouraging participation. Low-carbon lifestyles need to be promoted as options for everyone, both rich and poor. Once people realize the benefits of lifestyles that protect their environment, they will naturally make the right choices.

Every decision we make has consequences, and our contributions should be supported through environmental legislation, not ignored or undermined.

Those who take the initiative in their own lives, such as Chang Jiang and Liu Peng, should be encouraged, not discouraged. With more people making similar efforts every day, it seems the key ingredient for achieving a low-carbon society is within our grasp.

This is an essential part of the “Chinese dream” and it requires everyone’s participation.

The author is an intern writer with China Daily.