Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Youth Speak Truth On State Of Air Quality

Updated on Jan 19, 2009 – SCMP

Sometimes it takes youth to speak the truth to those in power. Such was the case when 500 Hong Kong residents gathered on January 10 to discuss the growing epidemic of air pollution.

Hong Kong’s air is toxic and getting worse.

Recent studies reveal sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter 200 to 400 per cent above the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to protect basic health. The Hedley Environmental Index, developed by University of Hong Kong professor Anthony Hedley, shows the real costs in monetary and health terms.

Hong Kong suffers an average of four additional unnecessary deaths a day due to airborne toxins.

Hongkongers get the message. A survey released last month by the Hong Kong Transition Project reported that 81 per cent of local adults want the government to make reversing air pollution a priority – an almost 200 per cent increase from public opinion in 2001.

Two thirds of Hong Kong residents regularly avoid outdoor exercise and shield themselves with air conditioning; 500,000 are seriously considering leaving the city permanently.

The participants at the Air We Breathe conference, organised by Civic Exchange, sought more comprehensive solutions. Their suggestions were numerous, innovative and thoughtful, yet none seem to be on the government’s radar.

Refreshingly, it was the teenage contingent who put the issues to Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah most clearly. Their message to Mr Yau, who attended the conference, was: “You have the power; you should act. This is an issue of life and death, and the lives are ours. Fix it – now.”

Among the numerous fixes suggested, the top three were:

  • Set legally binding standards (not unenforced guidelines) for air quality, using human health as the guiding principle;
  • Adopt the latest WHO standards, which are based on the best science available to mankind; and
  • Commit to a near-term target for reaching the pollutant levels (say, 2011) and assign a blue-ribbon team, amply supported by government experts, to come up with a plan.

The people of Hong Kong have spoken. It’s time for the government to act.

Rachel Fleishman, Mid-Levels

Comments are closed.