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Olympic dream leads to greener lifestyle
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Wang Meng quit driving his car after Beijing adopted the current plan allowing cars on the road on alternate days based on license plates ending in odd or even numbers. Even on the even-number days, when he is allowed to drive, Wang still rides his folding bicycle to and from work at the International Broadcasting Center in the Olympic Green.

A worker fixes a 'green' cyclist at Tian'anmen Square to celebrate the Olympic Games. [China Daily]

A worker fixes a "green" cyclist at Tian'anmen Square to celebrate the Olympic Games. [China Daily]  

This summer, he started to use an electric fan instead of the air conditioner in the evenings when it is not too hot because it is "healthier", he said.

Wang Meng is not the only one whose daily life has gone through some subtle changes in recent months, as the city encourages the public to play an active role in protecting the environment - part of its efforts to hold a "Green Olympics."

Many residents in Beijing are changing their habits to embrace a greener lifestyle. In the public's mind, there is a growing awareness of energy saving and environmental protection.

"The stringent overall environmental requirements of the Olympic Games actually served as a catalyst for various measures and the countdown to the Games made it even more urgent for the entire society to take action, " according to Zhang Lingge, an environmental awareness promotion project researcher at the Environmental Defense Fund, a US-based nonprofit organization.

Living near the north Fifth Ring Road of the city, Wang Meng has witnessed an increase in the number of bicycle riders.

"The 25-minute ride is not troublesome at all. For me, it's just picking up an old habit again. In middle school, I used to ride my bicycle every day, as most of my classmates did," Wang said.

The recent hike in the price of gasoline also contributes to the increase in people using pedal power, he added.

Wang bought five energy-saving light bulbs at 1 yuan each, thanks to subsidies from both the central government and the Beijing municipal government for downtown residents, and installed all of them.

"These bulbs can help cut my electricity bills in the long run," he said. "Besides, they are not that expensive."

Wide media coverage on the threat of global warming and the urgency of environmental protection has contributed to raising public awareness.

Many environmental organizations have produced creative media campaigns to generate public interest, including for the Olympics.

Teaming up with 11 former Olympic gold medalists, the China Environment Awareness Program (CEAP) created eight public service advertisements to raise public environmental consciousness toward a "Green Olympics."

Although each of the public service ads lasts only 30 seconds, the eight advertisements address key environmental protection issues, such as sorting trash for recycling, saving water resources, protecting bio-diversity, and using more clean energy.

These public service ads are being broadcast on various TV channels, on the monitor screens within the Olympic facilities and at stadiums and on public transportation systems.

Popular athletes deliver the green messages. In one ad, when star badminton player Bao Chunlai stays late, head badminton coach Li Yongbo turns off the extra lights in the training center, reminding the audience that "saving energy can be as easy as pie. "

In another ad, four-time Olympic table tennis champion Deng Yaping beats her rival by using both sides of the paddle. So, Deng exhorts, print on both sides of a piece of paper.

"On the battleground of climate change, we need more 'green champions'. I believe these athletes' influence will help people translate the green concepts into practice," said Kishan Khoday, assistant country director of the United Nations Development Project in China.

In China, new laws and regulations are helping to guide the public toward greener practices.

As of June 1st, free plastic shopping bags have been banned all over the country. Consumers have turned to woven baskets, or the more fashionable "eco-friendly cloth bags".

Those who do pay for plastic bags are trying to buy as few as possible, reversing an old mindset prevalent before the ban.

A similar initiative requiring offices, hotels, malls and other large buildings to set air conditioners no lower than 26 C in the summer is expected to become law.

Visitors can see solar-powered streetlights at scenic spots in the city's suburbs. Some traffic lights in the city are also solar-powered.

A survey jointly conducted by CEAP and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences this year shows that environmental protection is listed as China's fourth most important social issue, after healthcare, employment and the income gap between urban and rural areas.

"There has been a distinct increase in public awareness of environmental protection," Jia Feng, a Ministry of Environmental Protection official who heads the CEAP program said.

The green goals set by the country's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) to cut energy consumption by 20 percent and major pollutants by 10 percent toward a more sustainable mode of economic development has contributed to increased public environmental awareness, he said.

The Environmental Defense Fund has been leading a green campaign since 2005, trying to persuade Beijing citizens to adopt more environmental friendly ways of commuting in the city.

The campaign has chosen Shanghai, the host city of the 2010 World Expo, and Guangzhou, the host of the 16th Asian Games in 2012 as their next destinations after the Beijing Olympics, according to Zhang.

"Apart from all the official measures taken to clean up the environment, the real legacy of the Green Olympics for China is to make a greener lifestyle both belief and practice in the society at large," Zhang said.

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