'Please consider taking the stairs if you're going to one of the first five floors," says a sign by the elevators in an office building of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in Beijing.
Feeling a little guilty, I took the elevator to the third floor for a meeting in preparation for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will open next Monday (Nov 29) in Cancun, Mexico.
Considered China's "small cabinet", the NDRC's mission is to formulate strategies for the country's overall development in major economic and social sectors. It oversees China's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, and ensure sustainable development.
As NDRC officials repeatedly stress, China will soon reach a dead end in its development if it continues to replicate the growth model of the developed countries by squandering natural resources and fossil fuels.
China's determination to cut its greenhouse gas emissions is by its own choice, not a response to international pressure, according to Xie Zhenhua, deputy head of the NDRC and China's top climate official.
"We cannot sustain our growth any longer; we must go low-carbon, engage in recycling, and reduce the intensity of CO2 emissions," said Xie, who will lead an 80-member delegation to Cancun for the climate talks.
I believe the public largely shares Xie's views. People I have met during my trips outside Beijing invariably tell me the time is over for unbridled pursuit of GDP at the expense of the environment.
But instead of blaming others for inaction, they talk about what they as individuals and businesses can do to reduce their carbon footprint.
When I met Peng Xiancheng, chairman of Decision Chemical in Deyang, Sichuan province, in September, he talked about developing new environmentally friendly chemicals that would not only reduce the use of some heavy metals but also cut energy consumption and water usage in leather processing.
Peng told me he and his partners are pursuing their goal of forging a new set of technical standards to ensure that the leather industry will go green.
The other day, I had dinner with a retired official of the Supreme People's Court who told me with excitement how he was helping farmers in a village in Yunnan province to expand the planting of some indigenous trees whose seeds can be turned into bio-fuel.
Before the arrival of electricity, the local farmers used to process the seeds to fuel oil lamps, he said.
During the Global Sustainable Leaders Forum in Beijing this week, university students reported on their major research projects, all aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
In one project, the students are studying how to use CO2 as a medium to improve energy efficiency in alloying metals. They believe using CO2 in industrial processes can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In another project, the students are working on a new generation of heat pumps that can store and recycle heat and hot water discharged during manufacturing. Their research is already being applied in pilot projects in Shaoxing and Kunming.
These are just a few of the examples I have encountered of people who have become involved in "green" projects, programs, and experiments. Their goal is to improve their income, which currently averages about $3,000 per capita a year, by blazing a new trail of sustainable and low-carbon growth to offset the rising demand for energy and other natural resources.
These are the stories we should take to Cancun to inspire negotiators to smooth out their differences and work together to meet the challenges of climate change.
The window of opportunity is small. We must act together, and quickly.
The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily. You can reach her at email@example.com.
(China Daily 11/26/2010 page8)