Time for Lights Out in Shanghai

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Lights, light lights! That’s what hits the first-time visitor to Shanghai. It’s bright, it’s glitzy and it’s clearly intended to look like a world-class city. I’m not surprised that Mumbai aspires to be like Shanghai. However, I think the ambition might be a little misplaced. As I said, Shanghai glitters. But as we all know, that does not mean it’s gold.

There are lots of things worth admiring in Shanghai. The average level of cleanliness is much higher than in any Indian city I’ve visited. The public transport system is efficient and cheap. Public monuments are well-cared for (this holds true for all of China), foreigners are not gawked at and information is readily available. I’ve also mentioned in earlier posts that the locals are friendly and very helpful.
Familiarity with English is also much higher in Shanghai than in the rest of China (except Hong Kong of course, but that’s a special case).

However, the one thing that bothers me most about Shanghai is the inefficent use of energy. Much of Shanghai’s ‘brightness’ owes to purely ornamental lighting on buildings and trees. By ornamental lighting, I mean lighting that serves no purpose apart from looking pretty. Even residential blocks, such as where I live, are similarly lit up. Moreover, since 2001 the city government has declared that 40 skyscrapers in four districts must keep their lights on until 11 PM. The purpose of this decree is to maintain Shanghai’s image as a world class city, and there is no doubt that the view of the Pudong skyline or the historic Bund is enchanting after sundown, but surely there’s a heavy price to pay for all this beauty?

There is indeed. Astronomical electricity bills and pollution resulting from the production of electricity are one part of it. Another consequence is the high level of light pollution. How serious this light pollution is became clear when the Shanghai Observatory announced that it had to move further away from the city because the blinding lights from the city were affecting it’s capability to conduct astronomical observations.

The city administration seems to be realizing that something is seriously wrong with the way it consumes energy. Last year it ordered a a half-hour of lights out on the Bund on one Sunday evening. This was done to raise citizen awareness about the consequences of inefficient energy consumption.

On the one hand, I would applaud any measure by the city which would curtail it’s wasteful habit. However, there is a part of me which never wants to see lights out in Shanghai. It is a breathtaking sight, but really…is there much choice?

Note: Some of my sources are a couple of years old. I couldn’t find the latest figures on energy consumption in China. Only the article about the observatory is this years. My research was hampered by the same factors which block my access to Blogspot, WordPress and Wikipedia.
The graininess of the picture can be blamed on high ISO, lack of a tripod and the fact that we were on a boat when my sister took that picture.

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4 thoughts on “Time for Lights Out in Shanghai

  1. >the place looks beautiful…but i guess the lovely part abt china is that there are areas that still retain its rural charms…we do a lot of sourcing from china and my team has travelled there number of time and are very impressed with the work culture there…

  2. >Yeah. That is another impressive thing about China. You get to work on time, you leave on time, you get the job done on time. Actually, lots of rural areas in China look just like they do in India. The resemblance is really quite striking.

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