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We’re all in this together for cleaner air

While the Triple Crown is the epitome of thoroughbred racing, Causeway Bay has just been awarded an informal Triple Crown of sorts – the district has boasted one of the priciest commercial property rents in the world, one of the most tourist-congested shopping space in the world, and now the most polluted district in Hong Kong to boot. Quite an unenviable feat !

It’s fair to ask based on this fact alone, are we going the way of some first-tier Chinese cities which recently issued red pollution alerts?

Latest government statistics showed Causeway Bay’s air pollution was rated “7 (high)” or above on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most serious in the Environmental Protection Department’s Air Pollution Index (API). A “high” rating means people’s health isat risk. It had reached this level 103 days of last year, followed by Mong Kok, which saw 69 days of “high” air pollution level.

The level of fine particles that can penetrate the lungs and are thus hazardous to human health in Causeway Bay was way higher than the World Health Organization’s guideline in most of the days in 2015. Fortunately, it appeared not to be representative of Hong Kong as a whole as the EPD report indicated a slight improvement in our air quality last year. The concentration of nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and respirable suspended particulate were lower than in 2014, although carbon monoxide did rise by 5%. There were 2% less ozone in the air, but its level was still high, increasing by 32% since 1999. There were fewer number of days when Air Quality Health Index was at “high” level or over, compared to 2014.

This is one issue where President John F. Kennedy’s famous exhortation: ‘’Ask not what the country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country’’ is applicable. To effectively tackle our persistent air pollution problem, the government cannot do it all. It needs the crucial cooperation of the entire citizenry.

We’re now past blaming our northern neighbors for our air pollution and must come to grips with the reality that the main source of our current pollution are locally-generated – in particular, from motor vehicles. And we must accept that the government cannot simply disperse our population concentration to the non-existent suburbs as in America. So what do we do?

Perhaps we should start by asking: do you really need a car? The answer for the vast majority of Hongkongers is undoubtedly ‘’no’’, considering our compact size and the world-class public transportation network of many modes.
But if you must, choose a car of right capacity. A single person doesn’t need a large sized car with a large engine. Forming a car pool with your friends or neighbors will help to reduce the pollution by simply reducing the number of vehicles on the road. And don’t forget the concurrent financial savings it will afford all participants.

Fuel combustion from car engines emits nitrogen oxides and suspended particulates, which cause air pollution. These air pollutants are particularly dangerous as they tend to be trapped in the deadly jungle of skyscrapers in Hong Kong.

Beyond the immediate health benefits it will bring to us all, better air quality will no doubt enhance our economic competitiveness as we are more likely to lure more talent and investment to our shores.

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