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Visiting the future


Chairman and CEO, Broad Air Conditioning, China

Two years ago I entered what seemed to be another world quite different from what I used to know about the West in Vauban, Freiburg, the solar city that is the green capital of Germany.

Kids played on roads rolling hoops, playing marbles, table tennis and badminton. There were no cars, no cars at all, running in the community. All the cars were confined to two multi-layer parking lots, and most of them belonged to the public: in an emergency anyone can borrow one, but many people can walk to work in five minutes. In the open central square hundreds of people were having dinner, drinking coffee and chatting cheerfully and humorously. There seemed to be happiness and leisure everywhere.

As the sun set I saw solar photovoltaic devices everywhere. House windows had sunshades and their walls were insulated. I saw a new house being built with 300 mm insulation foam boards, which surprised me greatly because usually thermal insulation is 50 mm thick. But I came to realize that energy conservation is a culture deeply rooted in the hearts of every resident of Vauban. To them, every little bit of energy waste is a sin.

Two months later, I returned with a delegation of more than ten people consisting of my staff, professors of Tsinghua University, Beijing, and bosses of real estate companies. Local architects and officials spoke to us about Vauban, and we ended up with four deep impressions.

The first is of low carbon. All the buildings were built or renovated by residents. All the windows are triple-glazed and have external sunshades. All the walls have very thick thermal insulation and almost all houses have heatrecovery fresh air ventilation. These technologies seem very simple, but they enhance the energy efficiency of buildings by 400 to 800 per cent. The residents consider energy conservation vital, and easy.

Secondly, the residents treat renewable energies very rationally. They know solar energy is the technology of the future. Solar hot water and solar heating work well, but solar photovoltaics is, at present, uneconomic. So the Government subsidizes it paying for electricity exported to the grid at prices three to five times higher than what people normally pay. But, though the residents like solar energy, they know that insulating buildings should come first.

Thirdly, the residents seem to think a happy life is an easy one. They use completely pesticidefree and fertilizer-free methods to green the environment, and never use non-local plants. They make full use of things locally: many slides and other things for kids are made of waste wood and bricks and natural stones and the children love them.

Lastly, our fourth impression was that neighbours get along harmoniously. The poor do not suffer prejudice, the rich have no fear of being attacked. Their income differences might be ten or a hundredfold yet they live in harmony. Children play on roads or in woods, with no concerns about safety. In China everyone worries about robbery and theft, traffic accidents, and all kinds of attacks, but in Vauban many people never lock their houses.

If a society pursues a low carbon lifestyle, enjoys joy and actualizes harmony in this way, it has reached its zenith. If there were really communism in the world, Vauban would be its exemplar, with what could be called eco-communism. It has nothing costly, fashionable or artificial just low carbon, joy, and harmony that can be summed up in one word: happiness. I will visit Vauban again even live there for a while.

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