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Cleanup as oil hits Hong Kong beaches

Meanwhile, government and community-led beach clean-ups continued to be held in different parts of the city on Wednesday, with dozens of residents filling bags with the sticky grease on Lamma Island’s Power Station Beach.

http://xnewspress.com/2017/08/cleanup-as-oil-hits-hong-kong-beaches/

The spill comes at the height of summer, when visitors, campers and holiday makers throng to beaches and outlying islands, especially at weekends. It has deployed helicopters and nine ships to help find and collect the waste while workers at public beaches are using absorbent blankets and strips to contain the mess.

The impact on the territory’s marine life, which includes the endangered Chinese white dolphins – also known as pink dolphins – was not immediately clear.

Environmental groups said that oil has seeped up to four inches (10 cm) deep into Hong Kong’s sprawling, sandy beaches making it hard to clean.

Hong Kong has sweltered in temperatures of about 33 degrees Celsius for more than a week, with little relief expected soon, which some environmentalists fear could worsen the problem by oxidising the oil.

Apart from beaches which have been shut, the rest of Hong Kong’s verdant shoreline is likely to have been impacted with the feeding capabilities of many sea creatures such as barnacles, crabs and shells affected, Lee said.

The possibility of an algae bloom formed by decaying palm oil, which would compete with fish for oxygen, would be a huge threat.

Palm oil is commonly used in food packaging and cosmetics.

The congealed palm oil resembles clumps of snow or pieces of Styrofoam and has a consistency similar to Play-Doh.

The South China Morning Post reports Hong Kong government departments have picked up more than 93 tonnes of the oil, which has crystallized.

In July 2012, Typhoon Vicente caused six containers, or 150 tonnes, of plastic pellets to be lost at sea, leading to widespread pollution in Hong Kong waters.

Breakthrough research reveals hypoxia can cause transgenerational reproductive impairment

A team led by The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) has revealed for the first time that hypoxia, a deficiency in oxygen, can cause transgenerational reproductive impairment in fish. This major breakthrough in environmental science was the result of a four-year joint project with team members from four other Hong Kong universities, and is testimony to EdUHK’s high quality research with global impact.

http://www.qswownews.com/2017/08/08/breakthrough-research-reveals-hypoxia-can-cause-transgenerational-reproductive-impairment/

From 2012 to 2016, the team compared the reproductive ability of marine medaka fish and the subsequent three generations of their offspring raised in seawater under normal and low levels of oxygen (hypoxia).

This important discovery has been published in the authoritative scientific journal Nature Communications. Team leader Professor Rudolf Wu, research chair professor of biological sciences at EdUHK, said that “recent climate change has caused the sea temperature to rise and oxygen level to drop. This, together with the large amount of nutrient-rich wastewater being disposed of in the ocean has caused excessive phytoplankton growth, which has led to hypoxia.”

To determine how the imminent threat of hypoxia would affect marine life, the team put marine medaka fish into two groups: one group kept in seawater with normal levels of oxygen and the other group in seawater with low oxygen (the hypoxic group). The offspring produced by the hypoxic group were then divided into two groups, with one returned to seawater with normal oxygen and the other kept under the low oxygen condition. The team then compared the reproductive ability, epigenetics and protein and gene expression of all three groups.

The team found that the second and third generations produced by hypoxic fish had lower levels of male hormones, poorer sperm quality and lower sperm motility and fertilisation success, despite having lived in seawater with a normal oxygen level throughout their lives. The observed reproductive impairment was associated with relevant epigenetic changes and changes in gene and protein expressions. This transgenerational effect revealed is of particular importance to Hong Kong and China, where hypoxia caused by pollution commonly occurs over large areas.

This breakthrough also has significant implications for humans. There is clinic evidence showing that men suffering from sleep apnea, who experience oxygen deprivation while sleeping, have lower sex hormone levels and sex drives. Other studies have shown that people who live at high altitudes with lower oxygen levels have lower sex hormone levels than those who live in lowlands. “Since the epigenetics and sex hormone regulation mechanisms are highly conserved and similar in both fish and humans, hypoxia may also lead to transgenerational reproductive impairment in male adult humans,” said Professor Wu.

This new finding by Professor Wu’s team shows that the adverse consequences of hypoxia are much more severe than currently perceived. “Despite some people arguing that improvements in environmental quality must be cost-effective,” he said, “we must also take into account that pollution may cause permanent reproductive impairments in future generations.”

The EdUHK-led team’s findings sound a very timely warning note for us all – if appropriate environmental protection measures are not taken now, the damage to both human and marine life may well be irreversible and unbearable.

Why Hong Kong is scared of trees: the fight for urban forestry in city that sees them as a threat, not an enhancement

With the responsibility for planting new trees in the hands of civil servants and a fixation on the danger of falling trees, is it any wonder the city lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to ‘greening’?

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2105451/why-hong-kong-scared-trees-fight-urban-forestry-city-tree-phobia

The Chinese city of Liuzhou has begun construction of a pioneering “forest city”, designed by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, in which 40,000 trees will create a green urban paradise for residents.

The project, in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in the country’s southwest, is only one example of the determination of cities across China to embrace what is known as “green infrastructure”, but experts say it is unlikely anything similar will happen in Hong Kong in the near future.

An artist’s impression of the world’s first forest city, currently under construction in Liuzhou, China. Photo: Stefano Boeri Architects

An artist’s impression of the world’s first forest city, currently under construction in Liuzhou, China. Photo: Stefano Boeri Architects

“In Western cities and [in China], green infrastructure is now an established concept, but Hong Kong only does grey infrastructure,” says Patrick Lau Hing-tat, chairman of EADG (Earth Asia Design Group), a landscape architect and councillor for Eastern district.

It’s universally acknowledged that trees, shrubs and plants are essential components of a modern city. They absorb carbon dioxide, improve air quality, filter roadside pollution, slow down storm water run-off, enhance urban aesthetics, promote ecological biodiversity, dampen noise, provide shade, mitigate urban heat island effect and counteract the general stress of city life. Yet, despite the obvious benefits for its residents, Hong Kong has failed to embrace green infrastructure or the vision of the urban forest.

“We haven’t even started yet,” says Lau, who employs about 50 staff in his Hong Kong headquarters in Causeway Bay, adding that 80 per cent of his green infrastructure projects are in China.

He says rapidly growing Chinese cities attract migrants from rural parts of the country, creating a demand for trees and green spaces. Local officials often regard green infrastructure as a quick way of making a positive impact and raising land values at a relatively low cost, compared to hard infrastructure projects such as bridges, railways and tunnels.

By contrast, in Hong Kong there are distinct signs of mass hylophobia. You are more likely to meet a tree hater than a tree hugger, and Hong Kong media is more likely to report on the deadly dangers of trees than their multiple benefits as an eco-service in a polluted and overheated city.

In July this year, headlines were made when a tree collapsed on four passing vehicles outside a public housing estate in Fanling. In April, it was reported that the bereaved family of a pregnant woman, fatally injured by a falling tree in Mid-Levels in 2014, is suing the owners of the property where the tree was located.

Hong Kong is probably unique in regarding the tree as a dangerous threat requiring careful management and risk assessment. Local urban planners and landscape architects say that instead of a bold plan of urban forestry, the government has settled on a muddled and limp policy of “greening”.

The worst examples include fake flowers painted on the plywood hoardings surrounding construction sites, potted plastic plants and even AstroTurf. One expert, who asked not to be named, complained that Hong Kong’s roadside planting resembled “leftover salad” and advocated that the whole of Tamar Park should be “ripped up” and redesigned as a mini country park, overgrowing with lush and diverse indigenous vegetation.

“The term greening has become so superficial that we now prefer to talk about urban forestry, which is about designing and managing a natural system of trees, plants, shrubs, insects and animals within a city, just as you would in a country park,” says Lau. He claims government departments have no understanding of the basic concepts of green infrastructure or urban forestry.

“You can interview 10 civil servants and I can guarantee you, nine will not have the first clue about the idea of urban forestry,” he says.

There is no shortage of information, schemes and awards with regard to what officials call “greening Hong Kong”. Government says it has been incorporating roof greening designs since 2001 and developing Greening Master Plans since 2004. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department runs a Green Hong Kong campaign and a Best Landscape Award. The housing authority runs a scheme called Green Delight in Estates and claims to plant one tree for every 15 flats built. Despite the hyperbole, the statistics are not encouraging.

According to government figures, in 2016/17, the number of trees planted in the city was less than one third of the total planted 10 years ago. Lau says the fundamental problem is that the entire greening and urban forestry project is run by government department managers, not designers or architects. The emphasis is always on engineering and ease of maintenance, not grand visions of green eco-cities, because “no one wants the extra maintenance burden”.

A look at the Civil Engineering and Development Department’s online examples of its “green master plan” for Central district can hardly be described as inspirational. It includes a meticulously pruned ornamental hedge, about 75cm high, which lines the sun-baked pedestrian walkway from the Central ferry piers to the IFC mall.

Just over two years ago, Deborah Kuh Wen-gee was recruited from outside government to head the Greening, Landscape and Tree Management Section of the Development Bureau.

A respected landscape architect, she was to be the much-needed breath of fresh air and champion of a new and strategic government policy on greening, landscaping and tree management. She talks with enthusiasm about the 400 indigenous species of tree in Hong Kong that are rarely seen in the city, and the need for “sexy diverse vegetation”, on the roads and streets, which is the “front line” of the battle for a green city.

She also thinks there are lots of misconception about greening.

“Not all green is good,” Kuh says. She justifies the drastic drop in the numbers of new trees being planted, saying that quality and the correct location of tree planting is more important than superficially impressive statistics.

“Everyone thinks that by planting more trees, we will get more shade, but big-leaf and big-branch trees might trap humidity,” she says.

Kuh also appears to harbour frustration about Hong Kong’s obsession with preserving old trees regardless of their natural life cycle. She says many of these old trees planted during the colonial era, are “aggressive alien species”, plagued by brown root disease, which “devastates our green landscape”.

“If we can remove these old and diseased trees we can plant something new and indigenous,” she says, but this ambition often puts her in conflict with local neighbourhoods and green groups. The tree protection lobby has some vocal advocates and government has already identified some 500 “old and valuable trees” that are afforded special protection.

Ironically, in a city plagued by tree phobia, it is very difficult to obtain approval to remove trees, even dead ones.

Kuh’s section is a policy body and it is not part of its remit to head into the city with shovels, planting trees and shrubs; that’s the job of government departments. However, without an inspirational example of what can be achieved with urban forestry, it’s almost impossible for them to ignite the public’s imagination. Perhaps with that in mind, they have initiated a collaborative project with the faculty of design and environment at the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong.

A design drawing for the traffic island rain garden at Wylie Road in Ho Man Tin.

A design drawing for the traffic island rain garden at Wylie Road in Ho Man Tin.

The project leader, landscape architecture lecturer Michael Thomas, says that two large traffic islands, one in Wylie Road, Kowloon and the other on the North Lantau Highway in Tung Chung, have been approved for urban forestry design. The site in Wylie Road will be a subtropical rain garden that will not only offer cosmetic greening but will be an effective road drainage ecosystem.

“The indigenous vegetation will take the rainwater and add it naturally to the groundwater system, not into concrete storm-water pipes that pour the water straight into the sea, together with all the local pollutants,” he says.

It’s very small in scale, no time frame has yet been agreed for the work, and Thomas, who has been in Hong Kong for more than a decade, is struck by the local tree phobia.

“There is a problem here that we fixate on trees and the risk of them falling over,” he says.

Even the catalyst for the creation of Kuh’s department was a government report, “People, Trees, Harmony”, which was produced in response to a tragic accident in Stanley when a teenage student was killed by a falling tree in 2008.

Tree management, tree complaints, tree risk avoidance and the notion that trees are a deadly threat to public safety remain at the heart of government thinking.

Lau has a vision of the country parks “extending as green fingers” along streets and pedestrian walkways into to the heart of the city, with natural vegetation providing shade, improved air quality, cooler air and, maybe, even higher land values. Compared to large-scale infrastructure projects, the costs are tiny, the benefits for all Hongkongers would be enormous and Kuh agrees with the principles.

“Fundamentally, we are about reintroducing nature to the city,” she says. But for that simple vision to be realised, Hong Kong needs to overcome its deep-rooted tree phobia.

Questions over two-day delay on notice of palm oil spill that left 11 Hong Kong beaches closed

Smelly, congealed clumps from spill in mainland waters mar island beauty spots in Hong Kong

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2105625/hong-kong-beaches-closed-after-mystery-oil-washes

Environmental experts have questioned why it took two days for mainland authorities to inform Hong Kong about a ship collision and palm oil spill that left nearly a dozen local beaches closed to the public at the weekend.

The accident took place on Thursday, but mainland authorities only reported the incident on Saturday. Affected Hong Kong residents learned of the spill on Sunday when beaches were closed.

“A notification mechanism [in place] should in theory state [the problem] as soon as possible but it’s hard to define how many days that is,” said Dr Tsang Po-keung, an associate professor of science and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s Advisory Council on the Environment.

“For some marine life, two days could be too late.”

Residents of Lamma and Lantau islands noticed congealed palm oil washed up on several beaches in the area on Sunday after it spilled into the sea when two boats crashed in mainland waters.

A similar substance was also spotted in Victoria Harbour.

Hung Shing Yeh Beach and Lo So Shing Beach on Lamma Island, as well as Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach and Tong Fuk Beach were all affected. So were both Upper and Lower Cheung Sha Beach.

Beaches at Repulse Bay, Middle Bay, South Bay, St Stephen’s Beach and Chung Hom Kok were also shut.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department hoisted the red flag at all 11 beaches, warning people not to go in the water. Parts of Cheung Chau were also reportedly affected.

closed-beaches

Tsang said the notification mechanism should be modified to specify how many days authorities should be given to report such incidents.

“This time they may think it’s fine because it’s just palm oil, but what if next time it is gasoline?” he said.

City University chair professor of biology Paul Lam Kwan-sing said the spill did not amount to an environmental disaster but was “not a good thing”.

“Palm oil is a crystallised liquid … which will slowly be decomposed by micro-organisms. The problem is that it is a real eyesore for beachgoers,” he said.

He agreed that the notification mechanism needed to be faster and information flow more transparent.

“Both sides [Guangdong and Hong Kong] should work it out, establish a hotline and specify exactly under what circumstances the mechanism should be activated,” he said.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the beach closures came after “white, oily” substances were found in the waters and “a white granular substance” washed up on beaches.

“Beach staff immediately deployed oil-absorbent felts and strips to prevent the spread of the oil, and the relevant government departments have been notified to clean up the oil and monitor the water quality of the affected beaches,” the spokesman said.

A Marine Department spokesman confirmed two ships had collided somewhere in the Pearl River estuary, in mainland waters, on Thursday and said that had caused some of the vessel’s cargo, palm oil, to leak into the sea.

Lamma resident Sheila McClelland spotted the oil clumps floating in the water and lying on the beach as she was on her way to work and said she noticed a “faintly chemical odour” as she inspected the solid lumps.

“I pressed it with my foot and it was solid. It was a bit like play dough but not as nice,” she said. “I’ve lived here for a couple of decades and I’ve seen many forms of pollution and unpleasant stuff from oil, syringes and of course the [2012] pellet spill. But nothing like this.”

In July 2012, seven containers fell from cargo ship Yong Xin Jie 1 when Typhoon Vicente hit the city. Six were loaded with 150 tonnes of plastic pellets, which washed up on Hong Kong beaches, sparking concern for marine life.

Lamma resident Stanley Chan Kam-wai, a conservation manager for the Eco-Education and Resources Centre, said cleaning up Sunday’s spill could be “as difficult as, if not more difficult than, cleaning up the mess” from the 2012 incident.

“Some of the oil is starting to congeal so once you press on it, it just disintegrates into powder like snow,” he said. “I’m very concerned about how the government will clean this up.”

He said by late afternoon on Sunday the smell was starting to turn rancid like the odours in alleyways behind fried snack shops.

The concern, he said, was that while most government beaches were being cleaned, the oil on non-government-run beaches would be left to rot.

Other Lamma residents on Sunday posted pictures of the substance on Facebook.

“At first glance it looked like blocks of styrofoam or cooked rice,” said one long-time Lamma resident, who spotted the stuff on Power Station Beach on Sunday morning. “It had a sort of bubbly consistency. It was along the high-tide line covering, I’d say, about two-thirds of the beach. [I’ve]never seen it before.”

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the fruit pulp of oil palm trees. Because of its versatility and low cost, it is used in many food products from fried food and margarine to ice cream, as well as in consumer products such as lipstick, shampoo and detergent.

Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said palm oil could absorb toxins in the water, making it more hazardous than in its raw form.

“People think just because it’s palm oil it’s safe but in large, highly concentrated amounts, it can’t be good for anyone,” he said.

Stokes said children and beach-goers were seen playing with the oily clumps on the shore on Sunday. “Government public communications over these kinds of accidents have definitely got to be worked on. I know it’s the weekend, but that’s when most people visit the beach,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Department said it had sent a boat to help in the clean-up.

Spills from shipping are fairly common in Hong Kong.

Last May, a 50-metre-long slick was spotted floating off Tsing Yi following a collision between an oil tanker and a mainland-registered cargo vessel.

About 493 confirmed oil spills were recorded between 2005 and 2014, according to the Marine Department, 135 of which were caused by shipping accidents or refuelling.

The causes of the rest were unknown.

Mai Po Nature Reserve Infrastructure Upgrade Project

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Exposure to pollution in Hong Kong is worst in the home, study reveals

It’s not just on the city’s streets where we are at risk from dangerous PM2.5 particulates – three-quarters of daily personal exposure is indoors

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2097540/exposure-pollution-hong-kong-worst-home-study

Your home may be your refuge in Hong Kong, but not from air pollution. It’s probably worse.

Exposure to PM2.5 particulates small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and most harmful to human health have been found to be just as high – or higher – inside people’s homes as they are outdoors or during the commute to work on an average weekday.

A two-year study by think tank Civic Exchange and City University, funded by investment bank Morgan Stanley, found that most urban dwellers are exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 during their daily commute that are almost always above average limits set by the World Health Organisation, and generally above readings at the nearest air quality monitoring station.

Breathe easier, Hong Kong is on course to hit global air pollution target

While the Environmental Protection Department’s 16 stations can monitor and assess ambient and roadside air quality across districts, the study fills a relatively wide gap in statistics on individual-level exposure to pollution in different “micro-environments”.

Co-author Dr Zhi Ning reported finding that people were exposed to air pollution risks not just outdoors but also indoors at home or the office.

“Your 24 hours are spent in different environments,” the City University air pollution expert said. “You may think that even if its very polluted outside, you are more safe inside. But it really depends on what that indoor environment is like.”

The researchers employed 73 volunteers who carried lunchbox-sized “personal exposure kits” fitted with sensors and GPS, 24 hours a day for a year around the city.

They found that most spent more than 85 per cent of each weekday indoors, which broke down to 42 per cent of the day at home, 34 per cent in the office, 4 per cent commuting and 11 per cent outdoors or in other indoor areas.

Homes were found to contribute 52 per cent of an individual’s personal exposure to PM2.5 compared with 13 per cent for offices, 4 per cent while commuting, 18 per cent outdoors and 14 per cent in other indoor areas.

The average PM2.5 concentration measured in homes – 42.5 micrograms per cubic metre – was three to four times lower than outdoors but slightly higher than while commuting and three times higher than in the office.

Factors for the PM2.5 build up in homes, Ning surmised, could range from cooking and the type of gas used to proximity to a construction site or smoking tobacco. And this was exacerbated by poor ventilation and dirty air filters. Offices tended to have better ventilation systems. Flats on lower floors were also exposed to more pollution.

But Ning found little correlation between personal exposure and district pollution. A person who spent more time in better ventilated indoor areas in heavily polluted Sham Shui Po, for example, could have a lower exposure to PM2.5 than the station reading and vice versa.

“Right now we only rely on [the department’s] data but they only provide a general, ballpark figure,” Civic Exchange research fellow and co-author Simon Ng Ka-wing said.

“It is important to know how much air pollution we are exposed to on a personal level. This would allow us to make better decisions as to when to go or not to go somewhere.”

The study recommended the government do more to promote better indoor air quality in homes and implement a comprehensive management programme.

A government spokesman said: “The EPD has been conducting promotional and educational activities, including exhibitions and seminars, to promote practices to achieve good indoor air quality.”

Additional reporting by Brian Wong

Trump has reheated debate with US withdrawal from Paris Agreement, former UN climate chief says

Speaking on sidelines of three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong, Christiana Figueres insisted the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions would not be shaken.

The United Nations’ former climate chief has struck a defiant note against US President Donald Trump [1]’s pullout from the landmark Paris accord, insisting the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions will not be shaken.

In an interview with the Post, Christiana Figueres, who formerly headed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, even “thanked” Trump for effectively reinvigorating the discussion over global warming and making it headline news again. But she admitted it was sad to see the US give up its leading role.

“The announcement was a political message that Mr Trump wanted to give out, geared toward his political base,” said Figueres, who headed the negotiations leading to the Paris agreement in 2015 [3]

“Most of the US economy, most cities, states and corporations, will continue because they know its in their own interest.”

She was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong on Monday, the city’s largest ever conference on sustainable buildings and urban development. Tackling climate change [4] in the face of rapid urbanisation is the key theme.

Trump’s politically-motivated gesture, Figueres said, would have limited impact on America, given that more than 175 US mayors, a growing number of states and more than 1,000 corporations had pledged to continue upholding commitments to the Paris Agreement.

“It is the White House which stepped out of [Paris], not the US economy,” she said. “That’s actually a sad statement to make as under normal conditions, a president should speak for the economy and the majority.”

Figueres brushed off Trump’s announcement as one riddled with inaccuracies, not least because there was no legal basis for it – no country can withdraw from the accord until three years after ratification – and his claims of bringing back coal industry jobs.

“It is not feasible and Mr Trump knows it,” she said, adding that most coal jobs had already been killed by cheap natural gas as a result of the recent shale revolution, and mining jobs had been taken over by mechanisation and automation.

“It will be increasingly difficult for other heads of state to take Mr Trump seriously,” she added, suggesting that Trump had undermined his country’s credibility.

Figueres said it would be inevitable that China – the world’s biggest carbon emitter – continued the charge as its leaders recognised decarbonisation was “good for their economy”.

Figueres, who now vice-chairs the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, said built-up environments contributed to one-fifth of global emissions. The conference was being held in Hong Kong as it was a gateway to Asia, she said.

“Asia marks whether the world is going to succeed in climate change actions or not.”

Causeway Bay has worst air in Hong Kong, statistics show

District exceeded the WHO’s limit on the concentration of small particulates in the air on 227 days of 2016

http://www.atimes.com/article/causeway-bay-worst-air-hong-kong-statistics-show/

Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island, had the poorest air in the city in 2016, followed by Tuen Mun in the New Territories West and Mong Kok in Kowloon, according to chief of the city’s Environment Bureau, citing from analyses by the Environmental Protection Department.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing made a written reply to the Legislative Council on Wednesday regarding concern over high-level air pollution in Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines state that the concentration of small particulates PM2.5 over a 24-hour period should not exceed 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

In 2016, Causeway Bay exceeded the limit on 227 days of the year, while for Tuen Mun and Mong Kok the numbers were 173 days and 171 days respectively. Other locations in Hong Kong monitored by the government averaged 100 days.

Pollution from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province and tropical cyclones are often blamed for Hong Kong’s poor air quality.

Over 80% of high pollution days were said to be caused by the downdraught effect of tropical cyclones, which results in the accumulation of ozone and fine suspended particulates in the Pearl River Delta. Wong explained that the pollutants are then brought to the city by westerly or northwesterly winds.

Waste disposal charge will cost a typical Hong Kong family HK$51 a month

Environment minister reveals range of fees intended to meet target of a 40 per cent reduction in household waste by 2022

Hong Kong’s households will have to shell out around HK$33 to HK$51 a month to dispose of their rubbish when a long-awaited quantity-based charging scheme designed to change behaviour and reduce waste comes into force in two years.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said on Monday that charges for municipal solid waste – rubbish generated from homes, offices, factories and restaurants, a third of which comes from kitchens – would be imposed on all sectors in one go for the sake of fairness and in line with the “polluter pays” principle.

“Quantity-based waste charging aims to create financial incentives to drive behavioural changes in waste generation,” Wong said. “The biggest aim is to reduce overall waste disposal, not to increase government revenues.”

Residential buildings, village houses and street-level shops that use government refuse collection services will be required to buy one of nine types of rubbish bags of varying size, priced at an average 11 cents per litre. The charge will be 30 cents for the smallest, 3-litre bag, while the biggest 100-litre bag will cost HK$11.

A three-person household opting for the standard 15-litre bag – roughly the same size as a supermarket plastic bag – will pay about HK$1.70 a time, running a tab of about HK$51 per month. It will cost HK$1.10,or HK$33 per month, for 10-litre bags.

Oversized items that cannot fit into any of the nine designated bags must be tagged with a label that costs HK$11 for disposal.

Sold in packs of 10, the bags will be available at 4,000 sales points, including convenience stores, post offices, petrol stations and special vending machines.

Commercial and industrial buildings using private collection services will pay a landfill “gate fee”, based on the weight of the rubbish they produce. The tip fees will be set between HK$365 and HK$395 per tonne.

Details of the charging scheme were revealed by the Environmental Protection Department on Monday after years of public engagement. A bill will be tabled at the Legislative Council before the summer and, following its passage, the public will be given 12 to 18 months to prepare for the charging scheme. Full implementation is expected in the second half of 2019.

The average Hongkonger throws out about 1.39kg of household waste per day. A target was set in 2014 to slash that figure by 40 per cent by 2022. Wong said the city’s municipal solid waste had increased by over 80 per cent over the past 30 years, far outpacing the population growth of 34 per cent.

He said the government would step up enforcement at refuse collection stations and bin sites. Legislation could also empower public officers to carry out enforcement and spot checks within common areas of private residential estates.

waste-price

Fixed penalties for non-compliance have been set at HK$1,500.

Wong said the charges – which will be in place for three years – were “acceptable” and in line with practices in Taipei City and Seoul, both of which have seen significant waste reduction since levies were introduced.

World Green Organisation policy advocacy manager Angus Wong Chun-yin welcomed the scheme but said the departments involved would need to be clearer about how to divide labour and monitor and carry out enforcement in estates. “It still seems a bit clumsy,” he said.

Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said the charging scheme’s impact would be greater if rates were set higher.

“At this rate, I believe it will be difficult for the government to meet the 2022 waste targets,” he said.

“But as a starting point, we can acquiesce.”

He said the government also needed to consider how property management companies of commercial buildings will divide tip fee costs equitably among tenants.

“What if I produce very little waste, why should I help pay for others? This is something they will need to think about.”
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2080508/11-cents-dump-1-litre-trash-hong-kong-government?_=1490065597228

David Suzuki, climate science’s caustic Dr Doom, rips into consumerism, hails China’s green tech

Japanese-Canadian geneticist offers gloomy prognosis of looming catastrophe, and rubbishes the idea that humanity can innovate its way out of its problems

http://www.scmp.com/print/lifestyle/article/2079813/david-suzuki-climate-sciences-caustic-dr-doom-rips-consumerism-hails

David Suzuki is a force of nature. The Canadian geneticist turned celebrity champion of the environment is operating on severe jet lag, two hours’ sleep and an ever-heightening world-weariness. But he fires off epithets, facts and acerbic quips with a vigour that’s as implausible as the ageless glow of his skin.

“Humans value growth; that’s like cancer cells,” Suzuki, 80, says. We’re overpopulated and live in a finite world but are deluding ourselves that the opposite is true, he says.

“We’re an invasive species,” he adds, forecasting that a Spanish-flu-like epidemic might cut back swelling populations in the near future.

The developing world is a target of his ire for its booming populations, a position he admits is controversial. “We don’t talk about how these populations are growing too fast because we’re told it’s racist to say that.”

Touching down in Hong Kong to deliver a rallying speech at City University that kicks off its inaugural lecture series on sustainability, Suzuki does not mince words on stage nor during interviews, in which he refuses to suffer optimists.

He has a reputation as a fearsome figurehead of Canada’s environmentalists, having, on occasion, responded to detractors in expletives, and proved a slightly scary interviewee. At times, he emanates a grandfatherly warmth; at others, a wry impatience that veers on the grouchy.

“Yeah, humans are just so smart, we’re just so, so smart,” he says, rolling his eyes at the suggestion that humanity might save itself through its own inventiveness. This quality, though marvellous in some respects, is what enabled us to develop in ways that are unsustainable.

“We have the internet, that’ll fix things,” he says sarcastically. He finds effusive optimism of this sort not only deeply distasteful, but also dangerous, as it vindicates inaction in the face of creeping adversity.

That man-made solutions to climate change’s increasingly disastrous impact, by way of geoengineering, or conquering new planets as recently proposed by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk, might be just around the corner, are beliefs he calls delusional. The answer lies not in new inventions, but in scaling back big time and pushing for others to do the same.

The solution to our problems goes far beyond paltry gestures such as switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, he says, but doesn’t offer any specific suggestions besides a total overhaul of the status quo, and mobilising society to campaign for its rights to clean resources.

“Since I arrived in Hong Kong people keep saying ‘free the market, you gotta free the market’,” Suzuki says, waving his arms flamboyantly. “The market” is a human construct, he adds. It’s not a preternatural force that’s beyond the control of humans – it can be tamed.

Needless to say, Suzuki is no proponent of deregulated capitalism, nor is he hopeful about the future prospects of mankind within the current framework of the global economy. “Corporations don’t give a s*** about us,” he says.

He argues that what’s happened is that we imbue “the market” with an almost transcendental power while relegating the natural world to a position of servitude. This sanctions our plundering of the Earth with ever greater and prospectively more dangerous ingenuity.

On China, he has a nuanced take: “I vowed never to go back because of the air pollution. Now China has invested in green technology because it’s had to – the pollution is killing people. It’s becoming a world leader in green tech.”

On recently elected US President Donald Trump he is far more critical: “We’ve moved from a biocentric point of view to an anthropocentric one. It’s all about me, me, me – and Trump is the cultural expression of that,” he says.

We once respected nature and bowed to its demands. Now we expect it to do our bidding and plunder its resources with an absurd expectation that they are infinite and a grandiose sense of entitlement.

“There’s no limit to what we want,” he says. “You walk down the street and see people in jeans that companies have ripped for them. I think that’s disgusting.”

Suzuki, a Vancouverite and third-generation Japanese-Canadian, rose to prominence as a TV presenter and environmental activist during and after the decades he spent as a research scientist.

His family suffered internment during the second world war, and, in its aftermath, were forced to relocate to the east of the Rocky Mountains after the government sold off their dry-cleaning business.

Suzuki attributes to his parents’ need to scrimp and save his own distaste for the materialist values that flourished after the war.

“My parents taught me not to run after money,” he says.

The fledging scientist earned his PhD in biology from the University of Chicago, and later became professor of a genetics department at the University of British Columbia, specialising in fruit flies.

He went on to host several documentaries, radio and TV shows, among them the internationally popular science programme The Nature of Things, which cemented his place as a household name.

“When I started doing those shows, Canadians were scientifically illiterate,” he recalls. “I had hoped that by helping disseminate information people would get better about making the right decisions.

“I’ve had to alter that belief – now we have the internet and access to so much information, we just read the stuff we want to believe.”

In the late 1970s, during the shooting of The Nature of Things, he interviewed the indigenous people of the Haida Gwaii archipelago on the north coast of British Columbia about protests they were holding against the cutting down of their forest.

These encounters proved life-changing for Suzuki, who has since campaigned tirelessly for the rights of indigenous cultures and has been adopted into one tribe.

“I’ve been welcomed into the eagle tribe – I’m an eagle,” he says. His adoptive tribe sees men and animals as one and the same, an idea Suzuki says is supported by recent research showing that humans and animals share many chromosomes.

He believes they are among the only societies who live sustainably, within their means and with respect for the natural world. He says science now backs many of their conceptions of man’s place in the world as part of an interconnected matrix.

With 55 books under his belt, a foundation in his name, and environmental campaign work spanning decades, Suzuki admits he’s exhausted, angry and prone to moments of despondency.

He has been a particularly active force when it comes to debunking climate deniers and the industry lobby groups that support them. “Companies that put their own profit over the survival of the planet – that’s evil.”

The past year has been a particularly bad one for his ilk. Deadline upon deadline set by climatologists and transnational alliances to offset climate change’s increasingly palpable impact have been flouted.

And what has emerged is an increasingly polarised world, unverifiable information chaos and a climate change denier at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation.

Suzuki remembers the evening of last year’s US elections. A party with his wife and friends in Massachusetts had disbanded early when the results became apparent. “I left that night worried that some of my friends might kill themselves,” he says.

A few weeks later he would find himself reading a particularly dismal report from an environmentalist’s research project that forecast climatological doom in our near future owing to methane being released from the Arctic as the permafrost thaws.

“I couldn’t move for a week after I read that,” he says. “My grandchildren have a very uncertain future.”

A family man with five children – three from his first marriage – he admits that for a proponent of population control his ecological footprint isn’t the most admirable.

“You have one kid, and you think, this is great, let’s have another,” he says. “And grandchildren are even better.”

His daughter, Severn, is like her father. At the age of 12, she travelled to Rio to give a speech at the summit and has since followed in her father’s footsteps by becoming a prominent environmental activist. When Suzuki needs to escape he retreats to the Haida Gwaii reservation, where Severn now lives with her husband and two sons.

“My grandchildren keep me from despair,” he says. “My grandchildren are what keep me fighting. Because we’ve got to keep fighting, otherwise – what’s the point?”