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It’s no good blaming the weather for pollution

South China Morning Post –  29th April 2011

It’s that air pollution blame game again. Less rain and stronger sunshine are the reasons given by the Environmental Protection Department for Hong Kong’s increased pollution levels during the first three months of the year. In recent years, we have also been told that dust clouds, climatic systems or factories in Guangdong are responsible. But let us be clear – it is us and no one else behind the bad air.

A department spokesman said earlier this week as yet another batch of poor figures were released that dry weather meant pollutants would stay in the air longer. Less cloud cover caused solar radiation, which formed photochemical smog. These reasons may go a way to explaining why the air pollution index was at a “very high” level for about a third of the period. They do not answer the question of how the pollution got there in the first place, though.

Meteorology is not required to answer it. It is caused by emissions from our vehicles, vessels and fossil fuel-burning power stations. Weather patterns can blow bad air our way, as last year, when dust from northern deserts choked our skies. In past decades, when Guangdong truly deserved the tag “factory of the world”, the polluted air from furnace smokestacks certainly did waft our way with the right conditions. At street level and for most of the time above our heads, though, the unhealthy air we breathe is our own making.

There has been progress. Government rules, guidelines and incentives have meant a marked decrease in some pollutants. But others are rising. The quarterly figures show that levels of roadside nitrogen dioxide from vehicle emissions, which can cause respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis, went up 21 per cent. No wonder air quality in areas where traffic is heaviest and most congested, Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, was worst.

We have got the ways and means to improve our air and make it safer. Laws and better standards will make all the difference. The existing voluntary schemes clearly do not work. Ignoring the causes and putting the blame on the weather is not a solution.

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