July 23, 2006
Choosing Cleaner Air
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The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said that "there is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening." In other words, we can shape our future with the choices we make.
I would like to explore this thought with you in the context of air pollution. Yes, Hong Kong's air is more polluted than it was 10 years ago. But I want you to know that I take this issue very seriously, and I am working with my colleagues in the government to deal with it as best and as quickly as possible.
The lion's share of our air pollution - about 80 per cent - comes from the Pearl River Delta. Naturally, this is something that greatly concerns the Guangdong authorities too. After all, we all breath the same air. That is why we have joined forces to establish an emissions reduction scheme to tackle the problem at source.
I will meet our Guangdong counterparts early next month to take stock of the measures we have taken. Our common goal is to significantly cut emissions of four major pollutants by the year 2010.
In Hong Kong, we have cracked down on smoky vehicles, and encouraged taxis and minibuses to switch to liquefied petroleum gas. Steps have also been taken to make our power plants more environmental-friendly.
Yet, much, much more needs to be done. I share the public's frustration that there is no quick fix, or no magic formula to clean up our air immediately. But each and every one of us can, and must, play a role to reduce air pollution.
Well, what can we do?
It is easy to blame the power companies for polluting the air. But if each of us could reduce our electricity consumption, then the power generators could burn less fuel and emit less pollutants such as sulphur dioxide.
When it comes to energy conservation, everyone can pitch in. All of us can make choices every day that have an impact on the environment. When you go out, do you use public transport? When you are away from the office, do you turn off your computer and monitor? What about the lights and the photocopier? Do you switch off the air-conditioner a few minutes before you close the door? When you come home, do you immediately reach for the air-con button, or do you open a window? These are personal choices we make all the time, often subconsciously. If you take energy-saving options, you can tell yourself: "I choose cleaner air."
Recently, I announced a "Dress Down in Summer" campaign in Government. I'm glad to notice a lot fewer ties and jackets in government offices these days. By dressing smart, civil servants don't need such cool room temperatures. Many in the private sector have followed suit, so to speak, and loosened up their dress codes, too.
Air conditioners account for one-third of Hong Kong's total electricity demand. Experts estimate that if we raise the air-conditioner temperature by three degrees Celsius, to 25.5 degrees, we could save about 1 billion units of electricity each year, worth about $900 million. That's a staggering amount of electricity, which we don't really need. Raising room temperatures just a little will eliminate tonnes and tonnes of air pollutants.
Another choice to clean up the air is to turn off idling car engines. If you're a driver waiting for your employer or your spouse, get them to call you a couple of minutes before they arrive. This will give you plenty of time to turn on your car's air-conditioning, rather than keeping the engine idling all the time.
Yet another choice for residents is to take public transport as often as possible. Consumers can shun goods with volatile organic compounds, such as hair spray and air fresheners. And you can easily opt for electrical appliances with Energy Efficiency Labels.
The business community has taken the lead by promoting a Clean Air Charter, which the Government wholeheartedly endorses. But, because 80% of Hong Kong's air pollution comes from across the boundary, I urge all investors in the Pearl River Delta to observe the Clean Air Charter and adopt cleaner manufacturing practices there, as well as here.
Everyone can pitch in. Developers and architects should be able to come up with plans that are better suited to our climate, with more efficient air circulation.
We all know the dangers of drinking, smoking and overeating. So, we should also be aware of the dire consequences of poor air quality - not just for ourselves, but also our children and grandchildren. If left unchecked, air pollution will drive away talent, stifle investment, reduce tourism, and ultimately choke economic growth.
Hong Kong people are known for their skill and determination in solving problems and overcoming daunting challenges. I am sure we can win this battle against air pollution. If other cities have done it, so can we. The key is to get as many members of the community as possible involved in making simple and smart choices that do not impact greatly, if at all, on our way of life.
We all have a stake in restoring our blue sky. So, let's shape the future with smarter choices. Say to yourself: "I choose cleaner air."
| Donald TSANG Yam-kuen,