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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Action urged on China's environment
Beijing ring road
The group wants to get people out of cars and onto bikes
The founder of one of China's few environmental pressure groups is urging citizens to take a more traditional approach to their lives in order to combat the environmental damage caused by massive economic growth.

Campaigner Sherry Liao, who established Global Village Of Beijing, told BBC World Service's The Interview programme that she advocated a "simple life".

She recommended "simplicity, spirituality, sporting, and sustainability".

China's phenomenal economic growth is causing a number of environmental problems.

Nine out of ten of the world's most polluted cities are in China. According to the World Bank, air pollution costs the Chinese economy $25bn a year in health expenditure and lost labour productivity - largely because of the use of coal.

There are ongoing environmental debates surrounding the country's dams policy, especially the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in central Hubei province.

Nine of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in China
And the massive building programme in the country - over half the concrete used in the world last year was poured into China - also threatens wildlife and some very fragile parts of the world's ecology.

The challenge Ms Liao and her organisation faces is persuading the Chinese people that booming construction, development and ownership is not always a good thing.

"We try to let people know the value of a traditional lifestyle," she said.

"So when we talk of a simple life, we advocate saving water, saving energy, riding a bicycle, reuse, and recycling. We want to make the traditional value become an environmental fashion."

Car sales are a key example.

In a country where the traditional means of transport is an environmentally-sound bicycle, car ownership has suddenly become an important status symbol.

Sales of new cars jumped 75% last year and are expected to total as many as 10m vehicles annually by 2010. In Beijing alone, more than 1,000 new cars hit the streets each day.

Manufacturer VW sells more cars in China than in its home country of Germany.

The demand for new cars has a double impact, as it necessitates new roads too.

"I think the policy to promote the private car is really wrong," Ms Liao said.

"It's a big mistake."

'Big challenge'

She added that she wanted to persuade people that choosing a bicycle over a car could improve their image.

"I think most of the Chinese still own a bicycle," she said.

"I think the problem is that they want to get a car, not because they need it, but just to show they are successful.

Three Gorges Dam route, China
Environmental groups are campaigning against the Three Gorges Dam
"So what we are doing is trying to change people's approach. What we tell them is that if you are a cyclist you are a hero, because you save energy for your future generations, you don't emit greenhouse gas, so you have done a lot for society, for the next generation."

The Global Village Of Beijing produce a TV programme to promote a green community, and run a school.

It insists that many people are getting a lot of wrong messages, and it wants to influence policy-makers and government to help reverse this.

One of its tactics has been to issue a "commitment card," which lists 10 environmentally-friendly behaviours, such as saving water and energy.

This generated a strong response from the public. After 10m cards were delivered in 2001, more than 90% of the recipients said they wanted to live a responsible lifestyle.

Ms Liao conceded, however, that the high demand for houses from China's booming population meant building work was necessary.

And she admitted it was "impossible" to stop the building of more roads.

"China is a huge country, but there are so few organisations who promote green lifestyles," she commented.

"I think we face a big challenge. But we never give up."


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