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Special> Low-Carbon Living> Focus
UPDATED: January 6, 2010 Web Exclusive
Chen Jiliang: A Modern 'Old Fool'
A climate and environmental expert practices a low-carbon lifestyle

The United Nations Climate Change Conference was held from December 7 to 19, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Chen Jiliang, program manager at the Climate and Energy Institute of Environment and Development with Germany's Heinrich Böll Foundation, took part in the conference.

During the conference, Chen, who is also a member of the Climate Change Action Network, a nonprofit organization in China, blogged what he saw and thought in Copenhagen with some brilliant advice, such as, "Reducing carbon emissions is just like losing weight – the main enemy is ourselves," and "To solve the climate problem, we must combat our greed, cowardice, arrogance and short-sightedness." Chen's words have received much attention from netizens.

The spirit of Old Fool

Yugong Yi Shan, literally The Old Fool Who Moved Mountains, is an ancient fable widely known in China. It tells the story of an old man in northern China who sets his mind on moving the two mountains blocking the way to his house. The story advocates being resolute and persevering in one's endeavor, no matter what hardships one encounters.

Today, the stumbling block for development is not a mountain in a real sense, but the carbon released into the atmosphere, a kind of Sword of Damocles hanging over mankind. Chen is determined to become a modern Old Fool, persevering in carbon emissions reduction in everyday life – hence the title of his blog, "A Modern Old Fool Reduces Carbon."

Born in 1979 in Shanghai, one of the most important industrial cities in China, Chen studied environmental management in the School of Environment and Sciences at TU Freiberg, Germany after graduating from East China Normal University.

During his graduate study, for the required internship semester, Chen participated in the Environment-Oriented Enterprise Consultancy Zhejiang (EECZ) Program of German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), which provides environment-oriented advisory services to local small- and medium-sized enterprises for energy-saving, emissions reduction and achieving eco-efficient production.

Chen came to Beijing in 2003 and worked at Germany's Heinrich Boell Foundation.

"My ideas about consumption have changed completely due to my work," Chen said. He promotes rational consumption and opposes the surge in discounts and sales promotions, which encourage impulse buying. He believes that the future of low-carbon consumption lies in leaseholding, where consumers rent products and services for only as long as they need them.

This pattern requires manufacturers' full support. For instance, after the lease expires, the manufacturer will have to reevaluate the quality of the product and then decide whether to rent it out again or call it back for recycling. In this way, society will enjoy the greatest reduction in resource costs and environment-polluting emissions.

As a Shanghainese with study experience in Europe, Chen appreciates the modern comforts associated with a high-quality life. "I think there should be a balance between a low-carbon lifestyle and a comfortable life. There is no need to make life uncomfortable for the sake of being low carbon, let alone sacrifice health," Chen said. "I don't want to condemn others."

The key to success: civil consciousness

The final result of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit was a simple accord that is not legally binding and contains no firm commitments to reducing emissions, which Chen found disappointing. He expressed his anger on his blog: "In my view, the final accord is just going to cover the embarrassing failure of the negotiations. It is unbelievable that the two-year-long negotiations ended so hastily under the manipulation of some big countries."

Chen believes that the key to success in reducing emissions is improving civil consciousness. "As global citizens, everyone should care about and help others – considering not just ourselves, but also strangers living far away. Saving energy should be our own rational choice after deep consideration, not merely for the purposes of cutting expenses or blindly answering calls to action," Chen said.

The low-carbon plan for 2010

Chen said the Heinrich Böll Foundation Beijing Office he works for will cooperate with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to conduct research on emissions reduction, hoping it will make a difference in the distribution of emissions reduction targets in the country's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15).

At present, the Chinese Government is implementing a uniform emissions reduction index for all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, which is "unfair and hard to carry out" in Chen's view. "The emissions reduction index for different parts of China should be based on local conditions," he said.


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