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Low-Carbon Living
Special> Low-Carbon Living
UPDATED: February 12, 2010 Web Exclusive
A Low-Carbon Lifestyle in Courtyards
Residents in old-fashioned courtyards shift to a low-carbon lifestyle

The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen held in December last year did change many people's opinions on climate change and environmental protection in China.

With the commitment to reducing emissions made by the Chinese Government last year, the Chinese people also sprang into action to save energy and reduce emissions. Residents living in the Nanluoguxiang Community are no exception.

Located in west Dongcheng District in downtown Beijing, Nanluoguxiang Alley was the center of the capital city (today's Beijing) during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

The Nanluoguxiang Community, including Nanluoguxiang Alley and six other neighboring alleys, reflects typical Beijing architecture with its siheyuan, or courtyards.

Some people in China may claim that since civilian consumption of energy accounts for only 10 percent of total national energy consumption, the civilian low-carbon lifestyle will make little difference to the national reduction of carbon emissions.

But residents of the Nanluoguxiang Community live a low-carbon lifestyle in every detail of their daily lives, interpreting low-carbon in their own way.

Indeed, raising public awareness of ways to save energy and reduce emissions could be the key to achieving the emissions reduction goals set by the Central Government.

At the beginning of 2010, the Residents' Committee of the Nanluoguxiang Community made their annual plan, devoting several pages to saving energy and reducing emissions.

Ji Yanzhao, deputy head of the Residents' Committee, said that the committee organizes activities every year with the themes of saving energy, reducing emissions and promoting a green lifestyle. But their 2010 plan has something new: a campaign to promote energy saving and emissions reduction among families in the community. Participating families will undergo a "test" on all aspects of their low-carbon life, including whether they use energy-saving lamps, use water-saving taps, and plant greens at home.

Trash disposal is always a hard nut to crack in courtyard-style homes. This year, in order to reduce and recycle living waste, the Residents' Committee is encouraging residents to regularly turn in their living waste in exchange for environmentally-friendly daily commodities--for instance, exchanging a waste battery for an energy-saving lamp or a water-saving tap.

As for kitchen garbage, Ma Dongmei, who is responsible for the environmental protection of the community, told Beijing Review that committee members are discussing a new cooperation program with the Little Donkey Farm in Beijing's western suburbs to solve the problem.

On December 17, 2009, the Residents' Committee met with representatives of the Little Donkey Farm for a seminar on garbage sorting, as the farm's business focuses on planting and breeding pollution-free farm products. After the seminar, committee members began to consider cooperation.

The first step of the cooperation is to provide composting equipment to families in the community, to encourage them to sort kitchen garbage. Then, the Little Donkey Farm will collect and recycle the compost for organic manure. Finally, in exchange, the farm will give organic vegetables to the families who provide the manure.

Since each green plant can absorb 18.3 kg of carbon dioxide per year, the Residents' Committee organized an activity to plant trees in the community. The committee is also providing flower and vegetable seeds to encourage residents to plant their own gardens and compete for the title of Best Gardener in the community. This year, the committee will rearrange the free space in the community and plant more plants with the support of the non-profit Sino-Ocean Green Fund.

Ji also reviewed the coal-to-electricity project conducted in the community in 2007. In the past, the majority of energy costs and carbon emissions in the community of bungalows came from traditional coal stove heating in winter, which incurs costs in terms of both coal use and carbon monoxide emissions.  

Fortunately, thanks to great investment by the government, the heating system of the old bungalows in the community was changed to electric radiators in 2007. The government encouraged residents to turn on their electric radiators between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in order to take advantage of the valley electricity price of 0.3 yuan per kwh (about $0.04 per kwh), compared with the peak electricity price of 0.45 yuan per kwh (about $0.07 per kwh). Combined with a subsidy of 0.2 yuan per kwh (about $0.03 per kwh), residents can enjoy electricity prices as low as 0.1 yuan per kwh (about $0.015 per kwh).

With the committee's tutoring, all the residents of the Nanluoguxiang Community have begun to live a low-carbon lifestyle in their own ways. Ji, for example, mainly travels by bicycle or on foot, even though she has a driver's license and her own car. She also teaches her son to save energy, which has paid off.

"My son practices energy saving in his life very well, although he is very young," Ji proudly told Beijing Review. "When he washes his hands, he turns on the tap just a little and turns off the tap while he is rubbing his hands with soap, to save as much water as possible."

Yang Xiuping, a retiree who lives in Nanluoguxiang No. 54, also shared with Beijing Review her experience saving energy. She believes that China lacks resources and energy, especially water resources. Everyone must begin to save energy in small ways to conserve enough resources for the next generation, she said. In her own life, she runs a plastic tube from the sink to lead the water she uses to wash vegetables and clothes into a storage container for later use flushing the toilet, cleaning the floor or watering the garden.

Li Chenghu used to live in Nanluoguxiang before he moved into a residential building. But he maintains the habit of saving energy in daily life. He refitted the lighting in his house by himself to install energy-saving lamps and special switches that control each lamp individually.

"If you want to, you can find ways to save energy in every detail of your daily life," Li said. "For instance, I often continue to use the iron after unplugging it to iron the last few pieces of clothing. And there is a designated corner in my kitchen for the paper boxes I set aside for recycling."

Li used to have a car, but he has since sold it.

"Public transportation in Beijing is very convenient now," he said. "Whether walking, bicycling or using public transportation, they are all healthy, energy-saving and emissions-reducing ways of going out. Thus, there's no reason for me to drive a car again."

With climate change becoming a serious issue, it is time to adopt a low-carbon lifestyle instead of a flashy life. Public awareness and passion for saving energy is the key to establishing a low-carbon society.

As Ji told Beijing Review, the motivation for civilians to save energy is very unpretending and simple; at times it might be simply to lower bills. But the motive doesn't matter, Ji said, as long as everyone adopts a low-carbon lifestyle.

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