Cities throughout China produced 130 million tons of garbage this year, and that figure is expected to increase by about ten percent a year as the standard of living increases on the mainland. Where does the garbage go? The head of the environmental protection committee of the National People's Congress has said that 300 of China's 600 major cities are surrounded by rubbish dumps. Beijing alone has 4700 dumps around it. Residents of large cities tend to produce twice as much waste per day as their rural counterparts. Beijing used to sort its rubbish for recycling in in the 1980s but has since abandoned that effort. Now an army of more than 100,000 scavengers picks through the rubbish there, but they only sort out the large pieces of easily recyclable materials like scrap metal. New laws about recycling waste are in process but a major problem is that existing laws are just ignored.
The disadvantages of styrofoam, particularly as a food container, are well-known, so much so that many environmentalists refer to it as the "white terror." China alone uses and discards in rubbish heaps 10 billion pieces of styrofoam food containers each year. And once in the landfill, they stay there for at least 100 years. A Hong Kong company, working with mainland colleagues, has developed a substitute for styrofoam called HI-CL. It is made from biodegradable fibers like sugarcane, wheat, sorghum, and other plants. Tests at the HK University of Science and Technology have shown that HI-CL containers buried in the ground have dissolved totally in 200 days. At present the company that developed HI-CL can only produce 300,000 food containers a day, but they hope soon to be able to manufacture containers in significant commercial quantities. Partly because of its great promise, the HI-CL technology received the gold award at the recent HK Eco-Products competition.
Despite an investigation by the central government and repeated warnings to stop, the Xiongsheng Bear and Tiger Mountain Village plans to continue feeding live animals such as calves and pigs and chickens to tigers to please cheering crowds of tourists. Representatives of animal rights groups are meeting Beijing officials soon to promote stronger laws against such practices. Under current law, protection is provided only for endangered species. And probably more significantly, the park is part-owned by the Guilin Tourism Authority, a government body which has invested heavily in the enterprise and is reluctant to give up one of its biggest attractions. This is all too often the case in China, where problems can't be solved because government institutions or officials are involved. The park is illegally selling tiger-bone and bear gall-bladder wine which it makes there, and that will be stopped, but the park plans to flout government directives about the way it feeds the tigers.
A lot of people protesting in Seattle this week are driven by intense concern for the environment. Not so in HK where local people--along with majorities in Cameroon and Armenia--consider earning money as the most important issue of the day. 56% of HK people responded that economic growth is more important than the environment, compared with only 32% of respondents worldwide who agreed.
Last week the Chinese government announced it had put an end to live feeding of wild animals at zoos and parks. Maybe so but at least one park near Guilin, one of China's top tourist cities, hasn't got the message. Last weekend they were still feeding live calves and pigs to tigers in wildlife parks to the delight of crowds of tourists. Supposedly "rehabilitating" the park-born cats for eventual release in the wild, the parks are practicing a slick, money-making deception because the older tigers themselves are killed and offered to Taiwanese tourists as exotic tiger-meat meals (also illegal) washed down with tiger-bone and bear gall-bladder wine. Other parks have similar programs. When a Shenzhen park was stopped from allowing tourists to toss live chickens to tigers there, the park then resorted to staging fighting horse shows to win back lost visitors. Government wildlife officials have promised investigations and strict compliance with national and international regulations.
In most places in the United States and the rest of the developed world, smoking in public places is more or less outlawed. But in Siping, in China's Jilin province, it's more or less compulsory because some workers have cash deducted from their pay and receive cartons of cigarettes in return. Signs throughout the city encourage people to smoke. Why? Because Lucky cigarettes are produced there and are the number one industry for the area. Siping even has a statue of dedicated cigarette workers holding up a large packet of Lucky cigarettes.
Hong Kong is noted for its "new towns," totally new communities of up to 500,000 people which the government erects in a 4-6 year period to take some of the population pressure off the older urban areas of HK. Three more new towns have been announced, but these are to be especially environmentally friendly, most of all by separating them for the most part from roadways. The major mode of transportation to the new towns will be light rail, with sunken roads along the railway for electric buses and LPG-fueled vehicles. The diesel vehicles so common in HK now will be banned in the new towns. "Travellators" (moving sidewalks) and pedestrian corridors will move people to and from the railways.
The HK government is considering measures to force Hong Kong-owned businesses and companies operating in Guangdong Province (across the fence from HK) to enact stricter pollution controls. In winter the prevailing winds bring approximately 30% of HK's air pollution into the territory from China.
Environmentalists note, though, that most of our pollution is local, especially that which the population experiences at street level. And, they say, China actually has tougher anti-pollution laws than HK. The trouble is, as with all Chinese law, in the enforcement, or lack of it.
Local greens suggest that our Chief Executive's anticipated strong statements on pollution in next week's policy address are a high-profile attempt to show that the government is doing something, but the reality is that we need to clean up HK first. The green groups also point out that while Guangdong's dirty air comes our way in winter, it's HK's dirty air that goes north into China during the summer.
HK doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to a clean and green environment, but we do have some groups really putting their heart into efforts to improve the situation. One of their tools is the website. Here are some of the major environmental ones:
Friends of the Earth HK--The web site doesn't fully reflect the intensity and the scope of this important group's work
Hong Kong has 18,000 taxis, most of them red. Now, thanks to a recent HK government requirement, the all-diesel fleet will start switching over to LPG. 5000 taxis are slated to make the change beginning next year at the same time as the first LPG refueling stations are set up across the territory. The plan is have the entire taxi fleet running on LPG by the end of 2005.
We are right outside of New York City, in Ossining, New York, and the City area isn't known for its clean air and green fields. But it is so neat to see real blue skies here! I walk over to Health Services at the seminary and it is really beautiful, a big Chinese-style stone building sitting on a hilltop beneath a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. Can't see that very often in Hong Kong where our air pollution is getting worse and worse.
From the newspaper reports it's rather hot throughout most of Asia and North America with a resultant high demand for energy for air conditioners. Several areas have suffered major power outages as a result of the increased drain on power grids. If you're using air conditioning, trying raising the temperature a little, especially when you're sleeping, to save electrical energy. If you're sleeping with more than a sheet over you, you're making the room too cold.
The politics between Hong Kong and the PRC since the handover have been like a cautious dance between two people getting to know each other. On the other hand, in other areas there has been a great deal of cooperation and cross-border exchange. Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong has been particularly active in reaching out to our northern neighbors. This year the local FoE has been focusing on China's Yellow River flowing out of the Tibetan highlands plateau. One of the mainland's major waterways, the Yellow went dry for 256 days last year due to reduced water volume caused by global warming, receding glaciers, and mismanagement of this precious resource. FoE has helped with tree replanting in the upper reaches of the Yellow River which delivers water to 400 million Chinese along its banks.
A three-year study has recorded a rise in the amount of cancer-causing pollutants in the water being supplied to Hong Kong from Guangdong Province, on the other side of the fence separating HK and the China mainland. Guangdong's East River is the source of 80% of HK's water but is increasingly threatened by rapid urbanization and industrialization along the river. Particularly worrisome is the rise in the levels of heavy metals detected in HK's water. Last year the HK government provided a $2.36 billion interest-free loan to the Guangdong government to build an aqueduct to divert HK's water from the polluted river.
This year the world's output of wind-generated electricity equaled the amount produced by nuclear power plants in 1968. That's a notable achievement but not a surprising one to people in the wind energy industry who have seen wind energy capacity increase nearly 27% a year since 1992 to become the world's fastest growing power production technology. Wind turbine technology has advanced and production costs have declined to about the same as for a coal-burning generating facility that must use smoke scrubbers. The wind energy industry can also point out that the source of their energy--the wind--is not only free and unlimited but it also has no byproducts harmful to the environment. So why hasn't wind energy grown even faster? Experts say that although the technology and economics are now right, the political will is still uncertain. The Asian Wall Street Journal reported that of the total wind power output in 1998, 67% was generated in Europe, 20% in the Americas, and only 12% in Asia.
It is estimated that nearly 600,000 styrofoam lunch boxes are used every day by Hong Kong's secondary school students. HK is a bit unusual because most students eat out, away from school, during a 1 1/2 hour lunch break. Very few students bring their lunch.
"We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God's creation.
"On a planet conflicted over environment issues, the Catholic tradition insists that we show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation."
--U.S. Catholic Bishops, in Sharing Catholic Social Teaching
9 June 1999
Business People See Green
A group of Hong Kong business people has formed the Hong Kong Business Coalition on the Environment and immediately condemned the HK government for its environmental failures and for dragging its feet on measures to improve the environment here. Businesses here have been known for working against environmental measures in the past because changes to laws and practices would cut into their profits, so this intervention is especially significant. The coalition joins the public, legislators, and government officials who have been long and loudly protesting, especially over worsening air pollution. Some high-powered members of the coalition said that HK's poor environmental situation and its poor performance in dealing with it will have a negative impact on the economy here as major corporations have second thoughts about opening offices here or maintaining their operations here. "The tax and infrastructure system is great, but they don't want their children breathing this air," one said.
Survival in Hong Kong's competitive economy is difficult for the human species. It's even worse for some of the endangered animal species here. Recently one of HK's top freshwater environments, a wetlands rated #1 for its variety of species, was bulldozed into muddy ponds and dry land. One of the environmental casualties was the Black Paradise Fish which may be found only in HK. 202 of the species were saved and are being raised now in tanks by conservationists who hope to preserve the fish in another protected habitat. The problem was created because their original home was private land unprotected by environmental laws.
Mangrove trees grow in the tidal areas along the sea coast and act as a natural filter to clean waste water and as a deterrent for red tide. But in Hong Kong, these precious natural resources are rapidly disappearing as urban development claims more and more land. Friends of the Earth has organized a mangrove planting campaign along part of the coast here, and since 1995 has planted more than 40,000 "droppers" as the small cuttings are called.
At the beginning of May, representatives from Hong Kong Friends of the Earth and the Qinghai Environmental Protection Bureau officially inaugurated a tree-planting project on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in northwestern China. Plans are to create a 2,500 acre forest and Friends of the Earth has contributed HK$20,000 to be used in constructing roads, pumping stations, and irrigation systems. The project is part of a massive reforestation program launched by the Chinese central government to halt the desertification of the arid province.
The HK government doesn't want to implement a recent Court of Final Appeal ruling that allows mainland children with a HK parent to come into the SAR. The Chief Executive and his whole administration are shamelessly building on the local population's fears and prejudices. One tactic is to point out the environmental cost of allowing 1.6 million people to enter HK, claiming huge increases in the levels of suspended dirt particles in the air, volatile organic compounds, construction noise, dust, and landfill materials. The government hasn't been that concerned about these problems in the past; and some green activists are saying that the administration should stop playing on people's fears and blaming migrants and instead use the possible influx of people as an opportunity to do things differently, for example, creating infrastructure improvements that should have been done years ago.
This year in Hong Kong, Friends of the Earth's focus on Earth Day was on drivers of vehicles who leave their engines running while parked or stopped for long periods of time. It is a major problem in HK where there are many chauffeur-driven vehicles whose drivers sit in their cars while waiting for the owners. One study estimates that a car idling for an hour uses about 0.8 liter of fuel and releases about 510 grams of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
HK babies are more at risk of brain damage from passive smoke than babies in the West, according to an expert. Pregnant mothers in Hong Kong are more likely to be married to smokers here, and because HK houses are so small, the second-hand smoke in the home atmosphere is more concentrated and the mothers' exposure to it--and the babies' also--is more intense. Most HK women do not smoke but many of their husbands do. The problem is aggravated because the more popular cigarettes in Asia tend to have higher levels of tar and nicotine than elsewhere.
Next Thursday, 22 April, is Earth Day, celebrated internationally as a day of education about our Earth and a day of motivation to change ecologically unsound habits and lifestyles. Start planning now what you can do to mark this special day!
Eight percent of the forests that originally covered most of the Earth's surface have been cleared, fragmented, or degraded in other ways over the millennia. The largest remaining areas of virgin forest are located in the Amazon Basin, Central Africa, Canada, and Russia.
The final total of the number of hill fires during the two-day grave
sweeping holiday in Hong Kong is more than 400 blazes resulting mostly from careless burning of incense. 5,400 trees were damaged, but a parks officer said that the damage was "normal" and pointed out that last year 13,000 trees were destroyed.
70% of the road miles driven in HK are by diesel-powered vehicles, a ratio found nowhere else in the world. Most people here do not have cars, and we have a very small number of passenger cars compared to our taxi fleet. Almost all the taxis and buses and big trucks have diesel engines which create much more air pollutants in their exhausts than do gasoline- or LPG-powered vehicles.
I missed it! Yesterday was World Water Day but I lost my note to myself about posting a notice yesterday. The availability of fresh water is an increasingly important environmental and political problem. The recent session of China's National People's Congress said that the supply of fresh water to the people will be China's biggest challenge in the new century. And in the past month water has again become a political issue as Israel and Arab neighbors argue over how limited water supplies will be divided. It is important that all of us realize we can make a difference by using water wisely. E.g., turn off water when it's not being used. A full gallon of water can be lost from a kitchen tap in less than seconds.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II appealed for greater
worldwide awareness of the environment, along with increased
efforts at sustainable development and environmental education.
Speaking to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences March 12, the pope
said ``human behavior sometimes is the cause of serious
ecological imbalance, with particularly harmful and disastrous
consequences in different countries and the globe as a whole.''
China's rapid urbanization has severely strained supplies of fresh water and created huge amounts of sewage that needs treatment in addition to increasing the demand for already limited supplies of energy. The National People's Congress is currently meeting in Beijing, and environmental issues are getting some notice. State media reported that maintaining enough fresh water supply will be China's main problem of the 21st century, and will have a large impact on whether China can feed itself or not.
All Shell gasoline stations in Hong Kong yesterday stopped selling leaded gasoline, the first major oil company to do so. A government ban on leaded gasoline is expected as one measure to cope with HK's increasing air pollution, mostly from motor vehicles. And today the roadside pollution monitors registered 138, the highest pollutant reading so far this year. Hospitals expect a surge in respiratory-related admissions within the next few days as a consequence.
Environmental experts are encouraging Hong Kong to invest more money and resources in producing artificial reefs to protect marine wildlife in the waters around HK. Several years ago, various ships and reefs constructed of old tires were sunk in HK waters to provide a place for the diminished fish stocks to hide. Overfishing had seriously depleted the fish populations previously around HK. Now after just a few years very encouraging schools of young fish are found living in these reefs. The researchers estimate that it might take more than a decade to build HK's fish population up to even 30% of what it was before but are pleased that already the decrease in fish stocks seems to have been halted. They hope that at least 10% of HK waters will eventually have manmade reefs to protect fish and other wildlife.
HK has long listened to the complaints of tourists about the amount of rubbish floating in the harbor and the sea around the nearby islands. Prominent among the debris are the cast off polystyrene lunch boxes such a popular part of the HK eating scene. Now a leading HK conservationist photographer has proposed that HK with little effort could achieve quick and dramatic improvement in the cleanliness of its coastal waters. Promoting the purchase of boats used to clean foreign waters, he says HK could see "instant" results which would provide a needed boost to the environmental psyche of HK people sensitive to the pollution problems we experience here.
An estimated four to six million landmines still litter the Cambodian landscape, the evil aftermath of decades of warfare there by the Khmer Rouge and others. Now tiger poachers are using home made landmines to kill tigers to sell on the blackmarket for traditional Chinese medicines. Poachers believed to be former soldiers or Khmer Rouge trained in guerrilla warfare are placing the new mines along trails used by tigers through the forests. The mines are also a new threat to the local community and forest rangers who use the same trails.
International water safety standards set a limit of 100 e.coli (fecal coliform) bacteria in every 100 milliliters of water. But recent testing in the Dongjiang River in China, from which Hong Kong gets its drinking water, found e. coli levels to range from 3,200 to 700,000 bacteria per 100 ml. In addition the tested water contained levels of the heavy metals mercury, cadmium, iron, copper, and chromium which were far above accepted safety standards. Currently HK is making an interest-free loan available to China to build a closed aqueduct to bring water from the Dongjiang River to HK. Now the testing group is suggesting that the aqueduct be extended to draw water from farther upstream, a move which the government spokesman said "was not appropriate, based on information from Guangdong" province where the river is located. Might the government suggest what WOULD be appropriate to insure safe drinking water?
Friends of the Earth had encouraged businesses and organizations not to send Christmas cards in 1998 but instead to send greetings in alternative ways. FoE says that 33 companies, 54 government departments, and 39 hotels complied, and the money saved--approximately HK$400,000--will be used to support the environment. The money has been earmarked for 50,000 mangrove and 20,000 other seedlings to be planted in a reforestation effort in 1999. Some of the money will also be used for environmental education. FoE and Shell Oil are also collaborating to collect and recycle the paper cards that were sent this past Christmas.