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Shanghai Daily: People Who Walk the Eco-Talk

Shanghai Daily spoke with JUCCCE Chairperson Peggy Liu and other local environmentalists about living sustainably.

As dangerous smog smothers Shanghai and other cities, soil contamination sows worry, and food safety scandals erupt, some people are doing more than lamenting: They are changing their lifestyles and urging others to live more sustainably.

Shanghai Daily recently spoke to a local businessman who grows his food on Chongming Island, an environmentalist working on clean energy, and environmentalists trying to persuade people to give up plastic bottles of water. The environmentalists spoke at a recent forum on sustainability in Thailand. Shanghai Daily interviewed them via e-mail. These three people, and others like them, are focusing on food safety, energy and the problem of non-recyclable waste. All are urgent problems in China.

Jiang Ying, editorial director of the magazine “Shanghai Insurance” started his own vegetable, poultry and livestock farm on Chongming Island, using traditional agricultural methods. He uses no chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer or any artificial ingredients in animal feed, such as hormones and antibiotics.

“I can return to primitive agriculture to have safe food,” said 48-year-old Jiang who started his farm around two years ago.

It’s a money loser but he never considered giving up.

“Food safety issues affect almost all types of agricultural products and we didn’t know what we could safely eat anymore,” said Jiang. “On my farm, I cannot change the soil or water, but at least I won’t use pesticides or additives.”

Despite past horrors, consumers are still shocked by continuing food safety scandals, such as recycled cooking oil or swill oil, wolfberries treated with sulfur to enhance their appearance, lamb barbecue actually made of rat meat, and an industrial plasticizer found in soft drinks. These are just a few.

The smog is a preoccupation and it comes largely from burning highly polluting coal; China burned almost 4 billion tons in 2012.

“We need to develop water and nuclear power generation, as well as natural gas. The key in energy adjustment is to develop clean energy and then to reduce dependence on coal,” said Zhou Dadi, deputy president of China Energy Research Society. “This is not something we can achieve in the short run.”

In developed countries, natural gas consumption occupies 30 percent of the energy structure, but only 5.4 percent in China, he told Shanghai Daily. Nuclear power only accounts for 2 percent of power generation in China, but around 16 percent in the United States, he noted.

Peggy Liu, founder of the NGO Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy, is devoted to rebalancing the energy mix. “In our view of the world, you need to make long-lasting systematic changes in the way cities are built, in smart grids for power, in energy efficiency and industrial emissions reduction,” said Liu, an American-born Chinese whose famiily is from Taiwan. She spoke at the recent Slow Life Symposium in Thailand. Also at the forum, there were calls to give up plastic-bottled drinking water.

Americans Karena Albers and Jenifer Willig, cofounders of the US-based NGO Whole World Water, are calling on people, especially in travel and tourism, to give up plastic. They are looking for partners in the Chinese hospitality and tourism market and are talking to large hotel groups, they said.

Of the 50 billion bottles of water bought each year in the US alone, 80 percent end up in landfills, despite recycling programs, said Albers. It’s worse in China. It takes more than 700 years for plastic to decompose and it takes three bottles of water to manufacture and distribute one plastic bottle of water, she said.

Liu, who now lives in Shanghai, said she and her family have become vegetarians because the lifestyle is friendlier and more environmentally friendly.

“We are in a culture that has become so used to seeing plastic in all our food and drinks,” said Willig, who has given up bottled water completely, which is very difficult. “As marketers, behavior change is one of our most difficult challenges, but we hope to inspire a sea change.”

Article by: Lu Feiran

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