Perhaps for the first time in China’s history since the reign of Emperor Wu of Liang, more than 1,600 years ago, a vegetarian diet is being embraced by a governmental initiative. The difference is that instead of having a religious reason, the nation-wide action plan seeks to lower China’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and to engage every Chinese citizen in curbing climate change. And who knows? Maybe China’s leaders are also endorsing the values of sustainable living from China’s ancient belief systems, including those practiced by Wu who embraced Buddhism and Confucianism, learned from Indian spiritual traditions, and banned animal sacrifice and opposed execution.
The “Cool China” National Low-Carbon Action Plan was introduced in October 2011 by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and sponsored by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Education Center and the U.S. Environmental Protection Association of China. The guidelines for the general public suggested seven “once a week” low-carbon lifestyle tips, which included as the second on the list, “one vegetarian day a week”. The seven tips are:
Green travel one day a week Eat vegetarian one day a week Hand wash clothes one day a week Watch one hour less TV every week Use stairs once a week Collect shower water to flush toilet once a week Consume one less container of bottled water each week
Since its launch, “Cool China” has spread to five provinces and eight cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, and Hangzhou, where were identified as low-carbon pilot provinces by the NDRC. In these mega-cities and provinces, the general public is encouraged to participate in a series of low-carbon activities in schools, businesses, and community groups. “Cool China” was also highlighted at the 2011 UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa (COP 17).
According to experts, if every person in China complies with these simple commitments, 22 kilograms (nearly 50 pounds) of carbon dioxide can be reduced per week and within one year each person will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one ton. By working together, each Chinese can help realize the goal of the most recent (12th) national five-year period of reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16% and CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 17%, and therefore contribute to combating global warming.
While the Chinese government is fully aware of the impact of livestock production on global warming, human health (especially children’s health), the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and, indeed, the Earth itself, it is absolutely vital that all leaders take progressive actions such as encouraging the public to move away from an animal-based diet. Hopefully, more initiatives such as “Cool China” will emerge and blossom in different countries – following the example of the world’s most populous nation.
Photo courtesy of McMaster Institute for Sustainable Development in Commerce/Flickr