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How to reduce our carbon footprint

By Ian Morrison

The recent spate of pollution to engulf Beijing - and many other cities in China - should lead us to the conclusion as to what measures we can take as individuals, who are faced with this growing problem on a daily basis, to help mitigate it.

China's impressive record of economic growth since the turn of the century has improved the lifestyles of many of its population in ways which would have been beyond recognition just a matter of a few decades previously.

But this has also led to the development of lifestyles which consume amounts of energy that would have been unimaginable several decades ago, with the carbon footprint of the average Chinese urbanite increasing from the mere imprint of a baby's footstep to one which would resemble a lumbering giant crashing about before us.

So the next time we complain or justifiably feel concerned about the dangerous levels of air pollution, we should also look ourselves squarely in the face and consider what we should do to help bring our own carbon footprint down by a few sizes.

Before you make your next car journey, you ought to consider whether there is any other viable alternative, or the next time you reach to switch on one of the myriad of electrical appliances in your home, you ought to consider whether it is absolutely necessary for you to do so.

You may be nodding your head in agreement with my points, but like many people in this increasingly individualistic society, your own personal concerns will probably come first, with those of your fellow citizens relegated to taking a "moral stance" on such "important" issues.

So let's be frank, most of us won't take the required measures on our own behalf, an element of compulsion, or better still, encouragement, is often required.

One method which has been proposed in the United Kingdom is Personal Carbon Trading, with each citizen issued with a certain number of points every year. Those who indulge in excessive use of energy would be required to trade points with those whose carbon footprint remains below the average level. That's the stick.

While the carrot could be that those accounts remain in credit at the end of the year could be rewarded in some way, such as discounts for public transport, or even discounts for purchases in selected retailers -- there are many ways in which this system could be used.

Such a system could be based on an electronic card, similar to those we use in many other aspects of our daily life, and even linked to other systems such as the chips contained in public hire bicycles, meaning that the use of emissions-free forms of transport - such as cycling - could actually be rewarded with additional points, offering a positive incentive to those who choose to adopt a greener lifestyle.