On August 8, 2007, with exactly a year to go before the Olympic Games, I bought a special gift for the Games in Beijing. I made a payment to offset the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from my car over the coming year. The money will help to compensate for the greenhouse gases I emit, paying for their treatment and absorption so that they have no overall effect on the environment.
I drive my car an average of 200 kilometres every week, producing a total of around 2.39 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year; I paid 300 yuan (US$40) to offset these emissions. This was as a gift from me – an ordinary Chinese citizen – to the Beijing Olympic Games, which stand for science, technology, the environment and humanism.
I bought my carbon offsets from a website recommended by WWF, an environmental NGO. The money will be used by environmental organisations around the world to clear up pollution and to research new, clean energy sources – cancelling out the harmful effects of my greenhouse-gas emissions.
The WWF called in July for all athletes taking part in the Beijing Olympics to offset the CO2 emissions from their flights, which will come to an average of around four tonnes each. They hope that this will encourage other people to follow their lead in reducing the environmental cost of their travel. Every year, air travel is responsible for 3.5% of all global CO2 emissions.
I recently presented a news programme about the Olympics on China Central Television’s English-language channel CCTV-9, as well as “Sprint to 2008”, a CCTV-2 special. Filming these programmes, I met lots of old friends who have already contributed a great deal to the Beijing Games, including Gerhard Heiberg, chairman of the Marketing Commission for the International Olympic Committee. Meeting with them moved me to again ask myself the question: as a young Chinese person, what gift should I give to the Olympics?
After mulling the question over for a considerable time, I decided to buy the offsets, and I will continue to buy them in the future. My next step will be to offset emissions from my air travel and use of air conditioning. If you are interested to make a similar gift, you can visit the following websites. It is extremely simple to calculate your emissions and to make purchases:
It would be good to see Chinese environmental organisations establishing similar systems, enabling Chinese people to make direct contributions to environmental protection in their country with just a few clicks of the mouse.
However, this will still not be enough. Carbon offsetting is a bit like absolving oneself of guilt, when we really need to tackle the problems at source. We should not only try to cancel out our carbon, but also consciously try to reduce the waste, pollution, and carbon emissions that we produce in every aspect of our lives.
We need to think about our actions that harm the environment, often done purely for the sake of vanity: driving big, gas-guzzling cars; setting the air-conditioning too low; wasting the water we use for washing; leaving the television on; using fridges, computers and mobile phones that consume too much energy… the list goes on. If we can start doing things in an environmentally friendly way – in every detail of our lives – and use green products, then we really can cut down on our CO2 emissions. If everyone in China cut their carbon footprint by 10 tonnes a year, how much could the country save? And if every company were to reduce its emissions by 100 tonnes a year, just think what a beautiful Beijing – and China – we could offer the world at the time of the Olympics.
With this in mind, I made two further decisions: firstly, to drive my car less and take the underground to and from work; secondly, to buy energy-efficient products and make environmental protection my main concern when buying goods, along with their function and price.
I’m doing this for a reason. I was fortunate enough to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January this year. There, among the snow-covered Alps, I heard the insights of global experts from many different fields, and was deeply struck by one fact: global warming is no longer a fashionable, yet far-off, topic of conversation. Climate change is the most urgent problem faced by humankind and the most pressing challenge demanding the attention of our world leaders. This is not something that might affect us a few hundred years in the future. Climate change is an issue that will affect us increasingly in the next few decades, but unfortunately we are behaving like proverbial boiling frogs, gradually adjusting ourselves to subtle changes that we have become oblivious to, despite the imminent and terrible dangers ahead.
Last year, the world was moved by former US vice president Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. But perhaps we were not affected deeply enough; maybe the message did not reach enough people. After all, the subject is still inconvenient for many: for businesses that need to turn a profit and individuals that want to make money. However, in every case – for governments, businesses or individuals – sacrificing the environment to get rich is like drinking poison to quench your thirst. It not only harms ourselves and others, but also shows a lack of responsibility to future generations – if we can survive that long.
The financial wealth for which we work so diligently is worthless in terms of the natural world. In most cities today it does not matter how rich you are, no amount of money can buy clean air and blue skies. Louis Vuitton bags are available everywhere, but clean air is nowhere to be found; which is actually more important here?
If we continue to avoid the truth because it is uncomfortable, then maybe the day will come when carbon offsetting is not just a novel idea that one can choose to take part in, but a basic rule that one will have to follow from birth.
A Chinese proverb states that we all bear responsibility for the fate of the country. But what about the fate of the planet?
Rui Chenggang is a well-known presenter on China Central Television. He graduated from China Foreign Affairs University; from 2005-6 he attended Yale as an Outstanding Youth Leader, where he was nominated by the principal as the university’s youngest ever World Scholar.