Monday, October 15, 2007
Today is Blog Action Day, when blogs all over the world unite to write about one single issue to raise awareness. This year it is the environment and it is appropriate given this year's Nobel Peace Prize was recently awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. I am sure this piece of news, whether or not the recipients were worthy winners, how the issue will move forward and whether or not Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" is alarmist after an UK court decided not to show the film in schools, will be written elsewhere.
What I will write about is how Hong Kong views and acts upon environmental issue. Hong Kong society is really driven on results and finance. Therefore it is no wonder the environment is not on the top priority on people's list, when making money and sending your kids to the best schools is what is on your mind. I think many Hong Kong people view environmental issue with a sense of hopelessness and despair. They think there is nothing that can be done by them, which is totally the wrong view. Every time the Air Pollution Index is raised dramatically in Hong Kong, it is always blamed on the weather or an incoming typhoon. Nobody actually says it is due the air pollution. I always see cosmetic advertisements on the television blaming air pollution for the poor quality of women's skin and they should buy facial cleansers to get rid of the soot and grime. Why don't we tackle the primary problem first by decreasing air pollution instead treating the secondary effects? As everybody in the medical sector knows, prevention is better than a cure. In terms of other countries and states Hong Kong is still far, far behind in terms of environmental thinking and policies. When I was in Berlin six years ago, I was astounded to find all outdoor rubbish bins where separated into four compartments - paper, cans, bottles and others. My friend recently found the same phenomenon in Seoul. Although we are starting to have this in Hong Kong, I still think it would be better to replace the rubbish bins in Hong Kong with this type of compartmentalized rubbish bins.
If Hong Kong people's views on the environment are to be changed, it is important to think how a Hong Kong citizen thinks and use this approach. As Hong Kong is results-driven society, you have to think on economic terms for them.
Visitors to Hong Kong do not want to climb the Peak just to find their view of the harbour is obscured by a black smog which won't dissipate for days on end. Neither will they want to come back if every time they step out into the open air they are induced into coughing. It stands to reason cleaning up the air and water is important for tourism and not just for the environment.
I remember reading a 'Time' magazine article many foreign investors are turning away from Hong Kong to Singapore with air pollution being a primary concern. They do not want to bring their families to a filth-ridden place to live, even if it is only for a few years. Cleaning up the air can help bring foreign investment into the region.
People who pollute our water and our land just don't realize they eventually have to pay up for the clean up in the end. They may not have to pick up the trash or clean up the water now - that's the government's job. Yet the government are funded by the taxpayers' money and if they have to continue to clean up this mess, eventually our taxes will rise to fund these operations.
Hong Kong has some of the highest land prices in the world. With so many people in such a small area, land is at a premium. Unfortunately some of this land has to be allocated to rubbish dumps - trash has to be buried somewhere. If we started to recycle more of our garbage, less land is needed for rubbish dumps and could be used for other purposes, such as wildlife conservation or even residential housing. Panellists on an episode of 'QI' laughed when they heard the largest rubbish dump on the Earth, Fresh Kills New York, was to be turned into a golf course and remarked the situation could turn out to be like that episode of 'The Simpsons' when you see all rubbish coming up in mounds. However my local driving range in Tai Po was converted from a rubbish dump to what it is now - a very nice place to practise my golf swing (although I still slice all my balls to the right). In Hong Kong we should maximise our space and I applaud the Chief Executive to encourage schools and private buildings to put our high-rise building rooftops to good use, such as building up green areas or placing solar-panels to decrease the electricity requirement of the building
All my doctor friends know air pollution can exacerbate health problems, especially respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Decreasing our pollution will help these people, decreasing the severity of their disease on their daily lives. This can lead to more productive people contributing to our economy instead of taking sick leave. It will lead to less consultations and hospital admission, decreasing the impact on our already crippled health service system. Water pollution should be tackled, since pollutants can act as nutrients for micro-organisms to grow. This will decrease the amount of water-borne infections and food poisoning.
Everywhere in Hong Kong is cooled by air-conditioning. Yet there are places who turn their airconditioning so high it is like stepping into an Arctic wonderland. Don't these people know turning up their air-conditioners uses up more electricity, leading to higher utility bills? The Hong Kong government has already suggested air-conditioners should be set at a temperature of 25.5 degrees Celsius but there are many places, such as trains and the underground, which don't seem to heed this advice. Using energy efficient lighting maybe costly at first but in the long run, it uses less power, last much longer and is more cost-effective. So why don't people see that?
Hopefully what I have written has given you more food for thought. Hopefully you will remember to switch off all electrical appliances once you've used them (including lights) and try to recycle as much as possible. One more thing to add, since you are reading this on your computer - try to use darker backgrounds or decrease the brightness/contrast on your computer screen. White backgrounds or light colours tend to use up more energy.
Posted by se7en at 10:43:00