Monday, June 18, 2012

A natural way to ride the menopause storm

check out

and tell your doctor that HRT is a pharmaceutical companies' conspiracy against women's health.

With so many safe, natural and effective ways to manage menopausal symptoms, women should stay clear of expensive and cancerogenic hormone replacement therapy.

Drug companies can no longer deny the science: therapies which combine oestrogen and progesterone have been linked to higher rates of breast cancer, and also an increased risk of heart disease, blood clots and strokes. An increased risk of womb cancer was also observed in women  who take an oestrogen-only HRT treatment.

There is a reason why certain hormones drop as you age. You may not know why, but Nature does.
Feeling like a 25 y/o when you are 55 seems too good to be true. And it is. It comes with an increased risk of cancer!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

electricity subsidy offered by Finance Minister John Tsang

In the last budget speech, Finance Minister John Tsang promised to subsidise electricity bills again.

The logic of this HK$1,800 subsidy runs counter to common sense, especially when he insists that the government is "promoting the development of environmental industries and a green economy through multi-pronged policies and initiatives," which specifically include "enhancing building energy efficiency and promoting the use of energy-saving household appliances by legislation."

Does John Tsang really think that Hong Kong residents will be persuaded to save energy by making their electricity bills cheaper?

I for one will not be spending a cent on electricity, given that my annual expenditure on electricity is lower than his proposed subsidy. This makes me ashamed of living in Hong Kong. I will not be paying for the electricity I use, and yet my money will still end up in the pockets of utilities shareholders through the taxes I pay. Taxpayers’ money is effectively being used to subsidize energy waste, instead of providing much needed environmental protection programs or reducing emissions.

The electricity subsidy runs counter to all the empty slogans that the government is using in its public education campaigns. Unless virtuous behaviour is rewarded, and wasteful behavior actively discouraged we will not see any real changes.

Electricity should be subjected to higher taxation to reflect the true environmental cost of its production. Cheap electricity will only lead to waste. The government should stop using the excuse that this subsidy will help low-income families. Poverty cannot be alleviated by allowing low-income families to keep the TV on all day and setting their air-con on freezing temperatures. If the intention is to help low-income families, then measures should be targeted for their benefit alone.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Luča (Light)

Some friends made a short film that i am happy to share with you. It may struck a chord with Hong Kong residents.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A waste disposal tax is long overdue

We are losing our country parks to landfills while the MTRC continues to expand the size of advertising space along station walls, on station floors, and train bodies. Such space is covered in self-adhesive vinyl (often dozens of meters long) that after a couple of weeks is removed and sent to landfills.

Using vinyl, which has a huge environmental impact, is totally irresponsible and if the government were serious about waste reduction, it would discourage this form of advertising by imposing a waste disposal tax. When will the real cost of advertising be calculated?

A waste disposal tax would force advertising agencies to switch to more creative and sustainable techniques. I don't see anything creative in destroying the planet while trying to make us buy one brand rather than another. A waste disposal tax would send a strong signal that the government is determined to reduce waste.

But just how determined is it? It hasn’t even managed to write a code of conduct for its own departments. The East Asian Games come to mind: the number of vinyl banners displayed in our city surpassed by far the number of spectators. Hardly a successful campaign. Undeterred, they continue to hang vinyl banners that add visual clutter to our streets, beaches and parks, and will inevitably end up in landfills. Surely there are better ways to increase public awareness of the risks of drink driving, drug abuse, dengue fever, encephalitis, rodent infestation, pickpockets, etc. than covering the city in huge banners that will only start to decompose in 50 years time.
Maybe these officials are unaware that vinyl PVC is a durable material that presents environmental concerns, both in its manufacture and disposal, and shouldn't be used as liberally as they do.

The URA, responsible for the recent makeover of Central Market, is just as oblivious to the necessity of reducing waste: a historic Bauhaus-style building which is far more environmentally-friendly in its design than most new buildings, was completely wrapped in green vinyl to create, listen, a “central oasis".
Has anybody ever seen an oasis made of plastic? A vertical garden would have been a better solution, and would have reduced pollution and indoor temperature instead of adding to it.

If nobody puts a stop to this vinyl fever, soon there will be no more green oasis to escape to, as our country parks make room for waste disposal facilities.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Household cleaning products are turning our rivers and oceans into a soup of dangerous chemicals

On a typical cleaning day in a typical Hong Kong home, levels of chemicals in the indoor air can be many times higher than the outdoor air in the most polluted parts of the city. Many chemicals contained in household cleaning products are the same as those used in industrial settings. Many scientists are now becoming concerned that long-term low-level exposure to chemicals may be just as dangerous as short-term high-dose exposures. They also worry that we do not understand the impact of exposure to the cocktail of chemicals found in household air and dust. Testing for human health effects is normally done on single chemicals. But in the real world, we are all exposed to a variety of chemicals every single day.

I do not use them, but i have to work in an environment where they are used routinely, and walk through indoor areas where i can often smell these products. The toilets i use in public places now discharge blue waste water because cleaning products are placed in the tank or in the bowl. Our obsession with hygiene is damaging not only the environment but our health as well.

Prior to WWII most household cleaning tasks were accomplished using relatively safe ingredients commonly found in most homes. With the proliferation of petroleum-based chemicals after the war, corporations began to manufacture ready-made cleaning products. Today, most people are accustomed to buying a wide range of products custom-designed for the many surfaces, materials and rooms in their homes. The price of these products doesn't reflect the damage they cause. Yesterday i spotted a huge bottle of bleach selling for HK$8. Certainly slapping a big tax on these products would encourage people to use less harmful alternatives, which are available but sell for a higher price.

Most cleaning chores can be easily handled without these toxic products. Everyday ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, salt, lemon juice, vegetable oil, natural soap can do the job as they did in the old days.

Someone might argue that this is the price of progress. What progress? If progress means living in a toxic environment, swimming in filthy rivers and oceans, destroying species and dying of cancer, i'd rather do without it.

Have you seen bats recently?

I live in the countryside and used to see bats every summer - one even made its way into my flat a few years ago. This year i haven't spotted any and am very worried.

Bats capture insects such as flies, mosquitoes, and certain moths that are agricultural pests. Certain bat species can capture their own weight in insects each night and eat several hundred small insects in one hour.

No surprise that the absence of bats around my flat coincided with a dramatic increase in mosquitoes. This summer i can't sit on my terrace because of them, and they bite even during the day.

This increase in mosquitoes has prompted the FEHD (Food and Environmental Hygiene Department) to spray more toxic chemicals - they even sprayed my basil and rosmarin plants and i couldn't use their leaves for cooking. It's a vicious circle, the more they spray the more resistant the mosquitoes become, and the less birds and bats we see.

In Europe they use bats for mosquito control, and the Environmental Protection agencies encourage people to hang a small bat house outside their windows, why don't they do that in HK??? Why do we never learn from nature instead of relying on chemicals?
I bet it's because bats are free, chemicals cost money and a lot of people profit from manufacturing and selling them.

I would prefer my taxes were spent to benefit the environment instead of damaging it. Is it too much to ask?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Our beaches are covered in styrofoam, our landfills are full of it and soon you could be breathing toxic fumes if it ends up in incinerators

Styrofoam is a substance that doesn't biodegrade and essentially has no expiry date. It resists compacting and, therefore, consumes more landfill space. More troubling is that Styrene, the basic building block of Styrofoam, is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

A safer, bio-degradable alternative exists, it is made from bagasse, a natural, nontoxic material made out of discarded sugar cane stalks. And yet styrofoam boxes are still the food container of choice in our city. Everyday children consume meals served in styrofoam containers provided by schools, people too busy or lazy to cook rely on take away food that is placed in styrofoam containers, fish and vegetables are imported and sold in styrofoam boxes.
Supermarkets sell raw and cooked food in styrofoam trays.
Huge amounts of this material is unnecessarily used for packaging electronics and white goods, even when recycled cardboard could be used for this purpose.

Many cities in both Europe and America have banned this material. Why is Hong Kong still lagging behind?

If you are a parent, please write to the principal of the school attended by your children and demand action to switch to re-usable or bio-degradable lunch boxes. Both the health of your children and the environment will greatly benefit.

If you get a take away for lunch, bring your own lunch box and ask the restaurant to fill it instead of relying on their styrofoam boxes.

When you shop in supermarkets, choose items that are not packaged in this material, or go to wet markets, where fruit and vegetables are not pre-packaged.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hong Kong is run like an experiment in extreme capitalism

The way the majority of people live in Hong Kong would be regarded as insane in most other countries. Today i had this epiphany. We are all trapped in a laboratory where an experiment in extreme capitalism is being conducted. Someone is trying to figure out how hard they can screw people before they die, flee the city or start rioting.
Unfortunately HKers' passivity and tolerance of abuse has reached such a high threshold that the experiment cannot be repeated anywhere else.
(Try to put European workers through what HK workers experience everyday, and you end up with a general strike, barricades and petrol bombs.)

In this city people can be deprived of clean air, and if you get lung cancer, no big deal, there are million of desperate migrants ready to take your place and work for a pittance. Minimum wage? What minimum wage? Just work 12 hours a day, and you can afford to put food on the table (for one, other family members will have to earn their own food). 1 out of 9 residents lives below the poverty line. So much for Asia's world city!

People are expected to squeeze in the smallest apartments ever built in the developed world, with no natural ventilation, and no insulation, so that their hard-earned money is spent on air-conditioning (CLP and HK Electric shareholders rub their hands in glee). Such apartments feature no balconies, so people are forced to buy driers for their clothes (again, i can see a big smile on the faces of those shareholders). You might think such poorly designed and built flats come cheap. No way. As a matter of fact they can cost many times more than a nice flat in Paris, Madrid, Rome etc.

Hong Kong citizens are deprived of political rights, such as universal suffrage, therefore they can't kick out an ineffective, incompetent, colluded government. Who needs democracy when a few "well-intentioned" tycoons can make decisions for you?

Whatever little money you make in this "city lab" will be spent on surviving, and what is left will be spent on stuff that you don't even need, but that some marketeers convinced you to that your money is pumped back into the pockets of the capitalist system that holds you at ransom. You can't even take public transport without being herded through a shopping mall.

Extreme exploitation can only be contrasted by breaking the metaphorical "ball and chain" that holds you down.
Work less, a lot less. Barter more, buy less, a lot less. Sit and watch the GDP drop...breath in and wait for the biggest revelation....your life will start to improve, and so will the lives of million of people like you....the planet will be grateful too.

Though worshipped by legions of capitalists, the GDP is a poor measure of living standards. A badly managed city with a lot of unnecessary infrastructures will see its GDP grow. Destroy and build, and then destroy again and rebuild....this makes the GDP grow and creates misery for all those who don't partake of the wealth thus created. Produce substandard goods that will soon end up in a landfill, and that will also make the GDP grow. And when the landfill comes to the end of its life cycle, build an incinerator...that will make the GDP grow. People get sick as a result? No problem, sell them pharma drugs, and build new hospitals...that will make the GDP grow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The ugliness of fashion

Hong Kong is brand crazy.
Asia currently constitutes the largest market for Western luxury brands, and Hong Kong accounts for 12% of that market, according to a book by Radha Chadha and Paul Husband, “The Cult of the Luxury Brand” (2006).
This gives us the largest share of Asian consumption outside Japan – whom we nonetheless surpass at a per capita rate. And a 2005 report by the Federation of Swiss Watch Industry FH declared that Hong Kong boasts as many purchases of Swiss watches as the entire USA.
As if that weren’t enough, Hong Kong also contains more big-brand stores than Paris, London, Milan or New York.

According to the authors, the trend reflects the essential conviction in cities like ours that “the face you show to the world counts more than how you live.”
 Yet signifying status through fashion is hardly a new phenomenon, having been analyzed to death since Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class” (1899).

What’s interesting about the preoccupation with brand names and logos in question is that it concerns itself with nothing less than full-on identity. “In today’s Asia you are what you wear,” say Chadha and Husband. “Your identity and self-worth are determined by the visible brands on your body.”
The claim fits into what the authors call the “luxe evolution model,” which traces out a trajectory followed by Asian cities like Hong Kong through different stages, with luxury brands serving different roles at each stage: early on as a means of merely showing off (as currently found in mainland China), later as a means of fitting in (Taiwan, South Korea), and eventually as an all-consuming way of life (Hong Kong, Japan).

One interesting theory about the origins of our love affair with luxury brands comes from Gordon Matthews, associate professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Matthews puts it down to the lack of identity that Hong Kong has struggled with over the last three decades as it shifted between British and Chinese rule without aligning itself directly with either. “Over that time, identity in Hong Kong has been ambiguous,” he says. “Everything has been based on money because that’s the only thing many Hong Kong people felt they could trust. It’s been the only marker of identity, and it can be directly displayed through these names and symbols."

“There’s a strong following instinct at work here", says local psychologist Dr. Julian Von Will. This instinct has a large place in luxury brand promotion, critically emphasizing the inherent paradox of much “high” fashion: “Despite being elitist, it promotes a herd mentality and it works off people’s stupidity. It has to because it’s all based on an absurd, unsustainable logic.”

Another obvious promotional point for luxury brands in Hong Kong is the architectural layout of the city. The stores are so woven into the fabric of the city, so integrated into our everyday experience, it becomes impossible to walk home or to the office without being conscious of the latest designer products sitting in the windows.

Next time you covet an overpriced, fashionable and branded item, take a deep breath and repeat with me: "This will go out of fashion in less than an year, and make me look like a complete fool." Hold on to your money. Use it to pay for what you really need to be free. Fashion never set anybody free.

By spending less, you will need to work less, and can finally be in control of your life. Time is one of the few things you cannot buy with money.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Buildings do not age gracefully in Hong Kong

Last Friday, just after lunchtime, a rundown housing block collapsed in Ma Tau Wai Road, in Hung Hom, killing four and injuring two. Had it happened at night, the number of victims would have been considerably higher, as the five-storey building had been partitioned into small cubicles and housed a large number of low-income families.

The walkup was built in the 1950s, and has been described by the local media and government officials as an "old" building.
OLD??? I wonder whether they would use the same adjective to describe a person of the same age, and call for the demise of anybody older than 50. Let's stick to the analogy of buildings and bodies, because it looks like this particular building caved under the weight of neglect and abuse, phenomena experienced by many other tenement houses in Hong Kong.
So, take a 50 year old person who has been subjected to all forms of abuse, the most common one being "work till you drop, breath toxic air and eat junk food", chances are s/he would be in a worse shape than someone who takes frequent holidays, lives in a more salubrious part of the world, and has enough money to eat a balanced diet.

In the developed world, only in Hong Kong buildings have a shorter life expectancy than people.

Instead of just pointing the finger at the age of these buildings, and calling for their immediate demolition, as the media and the URA have been doing, we should consider why buildings of this age are in such poor shape. We would then discover that their shape has been altered by illegal structures, balconies have been turned into extra rooms, small flats turned into even smaller flats, each one with its bathroom, kitchen and heavy appliances, adding a lot of extra weight to the structure, and that a family of four lives in less than 300 sf, while single people live in 100 sf cubicles.

Poverty and greedy property owners are the causes of this collapse, not the age of a building.

Unless people are paid a decent wage for their work, and a decent pension when they retire, unless the government forces property owners to maintain and repair their buildings, instead of letting them crumble in the hope of a generous pay-out from the URA, housing standards in HK will continue to be worse than what we see in shanty towns.

This collapse has given ammunition to the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) to tear down anything older than 50 years and allow developers to replace it with a 'podium and tower' 40-storey monster.

I would rather see nice old blocks given a new lease of life...because they have far more stories to tell than any sterile, unimaginative, excessively tall and expensive housing blocks that would otherwise replace them, blocking air flow, and driving low-income families to the fringes of our city.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Yet another white elephant

The Hong Kong government likes to believe that it is in tune with an economy driven by economic liberalism and focus on return on capital. In reality it has become the tool of two types of vested interest.

One is the clutch of property development groups who buy the loyalty of civil servants through post- retirement jobs and other perks. Maximizing the tycoons' return on capital takes precedence over the interest of the public and its revenue which government is supposed to represent. On the political side there is Beijing, leaning on a spineless chief executive, Donald Tsang, to speed up integration with the mainland and focus on capital spending regardless of rate of return.

Never were these twin tendencies better illustrated than by the government's pushing through a legislature dominated by business interests elected by small circles of voters of a project to spend more than HK$60 billion on a 26-km high-speed railway connecting Hong Kong to a line being built to link Guangdong to the border town of Shenzhen. It is not even very high-speed. Its design speed is 200 kph compared with the standard 350kph for China's high-speed trunk routes.

The prospect has aroused intense opposition from youthful protesters and from villagers who would be displaced by the line. The most telling arguments against the project are financial. The government has made barely any effort to justify the spending either in commercial or environmental terms for the very good reason that it is impossible. Instead the project is being hurried through on the basis of unsupported claims that Hong Kong would be marginalized if left out of China's high speed network.

The cost per kilometer would make this the world's most expensive railway, all to cover a distance which currently takes 20 minutes by car and roughly the same by the existing slow-speed railway.

The cost is exceptionally high largely because it is planned to take the line right into the middle of Kowloon, one of the world's most densely populated areas, tunneling both through reclaimed land and under high-rise buildings. Suggestions that the terminus be located in the New Territories, closer to the border and where construction costs would be far lower, have been dismissed. Why? Because the property giants which control so much of downtown Kowloon want it there. And they have Donald Tsang and his clutch of bureaucrats in their pocket. The same groups are also deeply involved in the construction industry, like their counterparts in Japan who influenced the long-ruling LDP into government funding of endless roads and bridges to nowhere but which generated handsome profits for the construction industry.

From Beijing's political viewpoint, the high-speed rail has significance for three reasons. First it is needed to show that Hong Kong really is part of China and follows Beijing's lead rather than deciding for itself how best to spend it resources. Second, it reflects Beijing's belief that all infrastructure building is a good thing, and should take precedence in government spending over the likes of health care, cleaning up the environment, or ensuring decent living conditions for the old and disadvantaged. Third, it must go ahead because many people object. Tsang must show that he is as arrogant as the central government and will not listen to rational arguments, let alone to student and peasant dissidents.

Monday, December 21, 2009

DuPont is killing us softly

People seem to value convenience at the expense of their health. Walk into any shop that sells cookware and you will soon realise that the best selling saucepans and frying pans are Teflon-coated. Many consumers think that if food sticks to the pan, then there must be something wrong with the pan, and would never question their cooking skills.
One can only wonder how they would have managed if DuPont had never developed Teflon.

A non-stick pan that doesn't require any scrubbing after use?? It sounds too good to be true. But it IS true. So, you might want to ask, where is the catch? At high heat, Teflon breaks down into PFOA, a well-known carcinogen.

A scientific advisory panel to the US Environmental Protection Agency unanimously recommended that PFOA should be considered a likely human carcinogen. This classification means that there is evidence of cancer causing effects from both human and animal studies.

Leaked documents exposed that DuPont hid studies showing the risks of PFOA leaching into food.
DuPont was fined $10.25 million dollars by the EPA for withholding information about potential health and environmental hazards of PFOA. This is the largest fine ever assessed by the EPA. To put the fine in context, in 2004 alone, Teflon accounted for $1 billion dollars in sales for DuPont. That's why DuPont can effectively lobby governments around the world to minimize the risks posed by Teflon.

Teflon’s breakdown chemical is a serious concern for a number of reasons. In addition to evidence that it is a likely cause of cancer, it falls into the category of chemicals which are persistent and accumulative. This means that rather than breaking down into harmless substances over time, they remain as they and accumulate in the environment. This is why studies which found PFOA in new born infants and in polar bears are so significant. Since neither newborns or polar bears use teflon coated objects, the presence of PFOA in their bodies shows that the substance builds up in the body and that exposure comes from environmental buildup of the chemical.

Rolf Halden, a research in the John’s Hopkins study of Teflon in infants commented, “We make a lot of chemicals that are extremely persistent, and we mass-produce them, but we never consider the life cycles of these chemicals. It’s kind of a tragedy. In some instances, it take years or decades before we learn of their toxicity”

DuPont Co. says that to date PFOA has had no known health effects on humans. Yeah, right.

Lots more on teflon at

In the meantime, i will stick to copper pans because they conduct heat quickly, or cast iron pans. They pose no health problem and after they've been used a few times, they develop a natural slippery surface that's nearly as good as a non-stick pan.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In Copenhagen no deal would have been better than what we got

The Copenhagen climate summit ended in a farce. The world was told that a 2 degrees Celsius increase is no big deal. Such an increase will wipe out entire communities, millions of people will be forced to leave their homes and join the ranks of climate refugees scrambling to make a living in developed countries. Furthermore, it will translate into a 3-3.5 degree increase in Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts the stakes like this: "We are facing impending disaster on a monstrous scale.... A global goal of about 2 degrees C is to condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development."

So, i believe that no deal would have been better than this deal, which is not binding, and allows the most polluting countries to increase their emissions, just at a slower pace. China is a world super-power, but because millions of Chinese people are kept in a state of poverty by a lack of social and economic justice, it can claim the status of "developing country" and get the kind of concessions that underdeveloped countries got out of this criminal deal. The US is a developed country, but it would rather spend trillions of dollars funding war in Iraq and Afghanistan than help developing countries move from a carbon-intensive to a low-carbon economy.

At the end of the summit, John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK stated that "The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight ... It is now evident that beating global warming will require a radically different model of politics than the one on display here in Copenhagen." According to him "there are too few politicians in this world capable of looking beyond the horizon of their own narrow self-interest". Nnimmo Bassey, of Friends of the Earth international called the conference "an abject failure". Tim Jones, climate policy officer from the World Development Movement said that leaders had "refused to lead and instead sought to bribe and bully developing nations to sign up to the equivalent of a death warrant."

The world leaders who met in Copenhagen have no moral authority and have shown a total lack of leadership in combating climate change. Only mass movements, direct action and civil disobedience can save the planet.
It's now down to all of us, as individuals and small communities, to change the way we live, and be the change that we want to see around us. The future of the next generations is in our hands.
Let's forget Copenhagen and start changing our lives.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A carbon tax on advertising is long overdue

These pictures give you an example of JCDecaux approach to advertising in Hong Kong. They have the exclusive right to advertise in the MTR, no area excluded, from trains to corridors, platforms, pillars and even turnstiles and ticket machines. Busy MTR stations such as Central, Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui are completely covered in their vinyl sheets (often dozens of meters long). As campaigns are short-lived, the amount of waste they create is huge. If you think paper posters are not environmentally-friendly, just imagine the environmental impact of producing and disposing of vinyl stickers the size of a building.

We are losing our country parks to landfills while this advertising agency and the MTR Corporation make a huge profit by selling every inch of the space we move through and then covering it in vinyl.
Now, to ensure that their campaigns have an even greater carbon footprint, JCDecaux have added loud tv screens, so that when you walk through this womb-like advertising space, from which there is no escape, your ears are assaulted too. As if vinyl is not bad enough for the environment, now local power stations have to burn more coal to power these obtrusive tv screens.

When will the real cost of advertising be calculated?
A carbon tax would force advertising agencies to switch to more creative and sustainable techniques. I don't see anything creative in destroying the planet while trying to make us buy one brand rather than another. If anything, it shows a complete lack of creativity.

One thing is sure, i have made a point of not buying any product that is advertised in such a loud and unsustainable manner. I might be regarded as "captive audience" by JCDecaux, but when it comes to opening my wallet i am still free.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The sorry state of Hong Kong Park

I used to enjoy walking through Hong Kong Park on my way to Admiralty MTR station. Not anymore. This walk now provides only more reasons to despair about the state of our public spaces once they are over-managed by incompetent government officials with a huge budget and a complete lack of common sense. The park is managed by the usual suspect, the LSCD, whose idea of landscape design seems to be borrowed from a bored housewife in the American midwest compulsively adding flower pots and white picket fences to her lawn. The result is tacky and artificial, and would make any landscape designer cringe. Either the LSCD does not regard urban landscaping as an important area requiring careful cultural and technical attention, or they have hired the wrong people to carry out this delicate task. Every tree now is tagged with the tree name, some are even accompanied by oversize stainless steel plaques. Trees are surrounded by potted flowers and plastic fences, the paths are lined with more plastic pots, encased in white plastic fences. Loud vinyl banners cover all the architectural features, and childish signs bearing flower names and nursery style drawings are added to rows of flower beds in clashing colours.
If you take a stroll in the park to get some respite from the visual assault of billboards and banners, you won't find it in this park, as the LCSD makes a point of competing with the private sector to get your attention. Everywhere you look you will see their giant logo, and their ubiquitous "it's forbidden to" signs.

Most countries, China included, have well-established landscape professions backed by knowledge of urban landscaping and mechanisms in place for prior consultation on such aspects as overall layout and local cultural characteristics. Hong Kong might be suffering from an identity crisis, as this city seems unable to develop any idea of beauty. Almost every attempt at "beautification" results in a tacky and crammed design, with too many features, in clashing colours and a totally artificial feel.
Plastic and stainless steel, combined with nursery colours, dominate Hong Kong urban parks.

I could point to examples of beautiful gardens in Europe, but as we are part of China, then why would the LCSD choose white picket fences and flower pots instead of adopting a Chinese aesthetic in the design of gardens?

The traditional Chinese Garden is a place for solitary or social contemplation of nature. There is no plastic. Chinese gardens provide a spiritual utopia for one to connect with nature, they are a spiritual shelter for people. They use plants as symbols. Bamboo was used in every traditional Chinese garden. This is because bamboo represents a strong but resilient character, banana trees are used for the sound they make in the breeze, because a garden should engage other senses besides the visual sense.
The design of a garden drew on such diverse fields as fengshui, botany, hydraulics, history, literature, and architecture. The task was considered so complex that only a scholar was capable of completing it, thus his garden was a measure of his knowledge. For the same reason poetry was a primary part of the garden design, as knowledge and composition of poetry served as an intelligence test for the scholar class. The garden served multiple functions as semi-public extension of the house and a place; of retreat, for festivity, for study of poetry, for romance. The social and cultural importance of the garden in Chinese culture cannot be underestimated.

In Hong Kong though, some incompetent civil servant who probably despises nature and is more at ease in an air-conditioned shopping mall is allowed to turn our oldest park into a complete mess.
Can someone send him on a field trip to Suzhou, Chengdu, Beijing, Nanjing, etc? Most parks in Shenzhen are better than what we have to suffer in HK!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Let's get moving???

The Home Affairs Bureau has covered Hong Kong with these vinyl banners, they are virtually everywhere you look, in the MTR, on fences and railings, on walls, beaches, bridges, walkways, and even in country parks.
And yet, despite their ubiquity, i still don't understand what these banners mean and what i am supposed to do.

The banners read: "Get moving. Clean Hong Kong" and show three youngsters that in some pictures appear to be dancing like maniacs, while in other pictures they are standing with a broom in their hands.

Are young people expected to sweep HK streets instead of going to a disco? Are they invited to take part in a new broom dance contest?
Are Hong Kong taxpayers expected to sweep the streets themselves, after paying the salary of those idiots that conceived this campaign? Or is this government bureaut trying to boost the morale of underpaid street sweepers? Are they sending the message that young people who cannot find jobs should consider becoming happy, cheerful street sweepers?

One thing is sure though: these huge banners are adding waste to our landfills and clutter to our streets. If the Home Affairs Bureau is serious about cleaning our city, it should start by setting an example and remove these hideous banners (after they have figured out a way to recycle them).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Too much hygiene is bad for you!

I have never been a big fan of chemical detergents and household cleaning products but i am surrounded by people who seem to be obsessed with hygiene...they disinfect and sanitize everything and are constantly at war with germs and bacteria. They carry sanitizing wipes, they squirt alcohol gel on their hands, would never drink from the same cup/bottle as someone else, and invariably are the first ones to get sick as soon as the flu season starts.

Since reading Kristin Ross' Fast Cars Clean Bodies a few years ago i have felt somewhat justified in my suspicion of those who feel civilised by virtue of showering more often than me and using Dettol and bleach in their homes...and think that cleanliness is just one step below holiness

Now it seems that i have even more ammunition than just common sense when i argue with them. It's called the 'hygiene hypothesis'. Medical researchers have found that exposure to dirt and germs early in life primes the immune system so it is prepared for any future threat and that our constant wiping and sterilising of everything from kitchen worktops to childrens toys may be undermining this important mechanism.

Just take a look at the amount spent by consumers on household cleaning products. And the result of all this cleaning? According to researchers, it is an exponential growth in allergies.

Previously, researchers focused mainly on allergies, asthma and eczema. Numerous studies show that children raised on farms are less likely to get these diseases, either because they inhale all kinds of toxins or drink raw milk packed with bugs.
Youngsters raised with cats or dogs also seem to be protected.

But now scientists believe the hygiene hypothesis could also explain the rise in some cancers.
According to the hygiene hypothesis, repeated exposure to allergens, bacteria or certain toxins keeps the immune system on red alert, suppressing cancer cells in the earliest stages of development. Studies suggest that the more germs you get in your body, the less likely you are to get certain tumors.

So, if you stop using "body care" products (which are packed with chemicals and come in plastic containers), and stop cleaning your home obsessively, not only you will save some money and time, but you will also be protecting your health and the environment.

On many beaches in the Mediterranean using shampoo and liquid soap during a shower is strictly prohibited, as the untreated waste water ends up in the sea. I dream of the day when such rule will be applied in Hong Kong.

Plastic fences on traffic islands

We all like trees and bushes on traffic islands, but wasting taxpayers' money on plastic fences?? Strangely enough, the same fences have appeared in most public parks and now surround every flower bed in town. Not only they look hideous, they are also very bad news for the environment. Somebody in China is polluting the environment, creating greenhouse gases that add to global warming so that any green space in Hong Kong can be fenced in. Wow, they might even call it "beautification".

The genius who made this decision should explain why plastic fences are necessary, given that these traffic islands are surrounded by roads. But i suspect that the ultimate reason lies in the fat envelope he got from some supplier in Guangdong.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What are public parks for??

When you take a look at the list of activities that are banned in Hong Kong public parks you wonder what you can actually do there, besides walking and reading the paper on a bench. You certainly cannot lie on the grass, play with a ball, fly a kite, bring your skateboard, put your roller blades on, play the guitar, teach your child how to ride a bike, etc.

In 2008 such restrictions were finally questioned by a group of parents and educators who have since organised events called Freedom Ball.
The next one will be at Shatin Park on Sunday 22nd November from 11.30am to 2:30pm.

The organizers of Freedom Ball incursions challenge the rules and encourage the public to join in actively.

They call for a review of the way public spaces are managed, designed and controlled so that they can finally meet the needs of Hong Kong people. A worthwhile cause to support!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Exposed pipes on Lamma

This is a very popular trail, thousands of visitors come to Lamma every weekend and walk from Yeung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan.
The island is actively promoted by the Tourism Board and the local economy mainly relies on visitors' spending.

You would expect the government to value the natural beauty of this island. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Take these pipes. In urban areas they would be underground, but on Lamma digging a trench for these pipes was not considered worthwhile. So here they are, in their full glory: alignment was not even attempted, and concrete was liberally used to support them every 2.5 metres.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The infantilization of public space

Picture #1: Hong Kong Park
Do we need to be taught the name of these flowers? It seems that the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has embarked on a mission to educate the public about flowers and trees. Fair enough, but why was the tag designed by a kindergarten teacher? Everywhere i look, i see a liberal use of nursery colours, signs and banners designed for pre-schoolers!

Picture #2: Hong Kong Park
This drinking fountain looks pretty straightforward, and yet the same department has covered it in instructions, and one of the signs was probably designed by the same kindergarten teacher who likes bees and flowers.

Not only Hong Kong Park has become cluttered and tacky, when i go to country parks to escape this visual assault, i am forced to walk on concrete paths surrounded by railings and yet more loud banners warning that i should protect myself from heat stroke.

Can government officials ever accept the idea that the majority of HK residents are over 18 and should be treated like responsible adults despite the fact that they are not allowed to elect the next chief executive?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Manifesto for eco-conscious HK chicks

Living in HK means that we can hardly escape the pressure of a multi-million advertising industry that is hell-bent on making people feel inadequate unless they buy the latest mobile phone or designer bag.
Unless we start to take pride in our alternative 'lifestyle choices', to borrow a marketeers' cliche, and use word of mouth and our influence in the media to spread it, we will never pose a challenge to the multinationals of planet destruction.

So i propose a manifesto for eco-conscious HK chicks and call for more entries to this list.

1. You love your old mobile phone, as it does exactly what a phone is supposed to do. Its no nonsense design can easily be described as "vintage", the simplicity of its menu mean that time can be spent engaging in more pleasant activities than studying functions and applications, its sturdiness means you don't need to worry about accidentally dropping or scratching it. When it finally breaks down, you can easily fix it or replace with a similar model, which you can buy second-hand for HK$200 (My Nokia is 5 years old and i have only changed the battery once)

2. You buy your clothes in second-hand and charity shops, alter them or re-style them yourself, you organize swap parties where friends and acquaintances can exchange loved items without ever opening your purse. Your style is unique and fashion designers will copy it, because they always take inspiration from what stands out in the street, but then put a silly price tag on it.

3. You travel by train and bicycle to reach places that other people will read about in travel magazines some time after you visited them. As you save money by spending less on consumer products, you need to work less, hence your holidays will be longer. You leave the "long-weekend" getaway places to mass tourists who are time-strapped and herded like cows into over-crowded resorts.

4. You make things. As you have more time for yourself, you learn how to make stuff that other people can only buy in expensive designer shops. You can make unique pottery, jewellery, photo-albums, knit jumpers and scarves, build your own furniture, make bags with discarded cloth and beads, there is virtually no limit to what you can make by hand.

5. You are a vegetarian. There is really no need to eat meat: the healthiest populations have always eaten little or no meat. You love animals and cannot bear the idea of eating parts of an animal that has been killed to feed you. You cook your lunch and dinner, put it in a re-usable container and carry it with you. In HK healthy food is expensive, but very affordable if you cook it yourself. Also, a quinoa and vegetables stew cannot be bought from a take-away, and the same applies to the most nutritious grains and pulses.

6. You never buy bottled water. It's terribly polluting for the environment, and also bad for your health: plastic releases carcinogenic particles into the water, especially when bottles are stored in high temperatures, as they are in HK. Instead, you carry a flask and refill it with tap water which is no worse than water you buy in bottles. At home you drink filtered or boiled tap water.

7. You carry your own bag when you go shopping. You only choose groceries without excessive packaging, as this saves space in your bag and creates less waste at home. You can use Marseilles soap to wash your laundry as it comes in a soap bar, instead of a plastic container. To clean kitchen and bathroom use a vinegar and water solution. Most cleaning products are unnecessary and very harmful for the environment.

8. You never buy cosmetics and body & hair care products. You don't need to because you can find everything you need to be your kitchen!
Natural beauty tips can be found on the Internet, and after trying natural ingredients, you will never go back to chemicals-laden creams and hair products. Besides, if you exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, live stress-free and eat healthy, your skin will never need a boost.

9. You often go the library. There you can read and borrow books, instead of buying them, and bring home CDs that you can listen to and even copy.

10. Your apartment feels much bigger than it is because you never clutter it with stuff you bought on impulse and don't really need. The less you own, the lighter you feel. Freedom can never be achieved by owning more. Material things are like a ball and chain that hinder your personal development and inner growth.

11. Your electricity bill is usually below HK$100 a month, you choose to live without a TV, because you'd rather socialize with friends than passively watch the box, you don't need air-conditioning in your flat because you keep your windows open and use a ceiling fan instead. As you avoid meat, your body temperature will naturally be lower. If you live alone, you don't need a washing machine either, as you can soak your clothes and bed linen in the washtub overnight, and rinse them in the morning.
You only need a small, energy-efficient fridge because in HK you are never too far from a grocery store or market.

12. You work to live, rather than live to work as many do in HK.
When you free yourself from the shackles of consumerism, you need to work fewer hours to support yourself. In the developed world we are facing over-capacity, over-production and over-consumption. If we all consumed less, then this unsustainable system would fold like a house of cards, and some sanity would be restored: the real quality of life would improve and the environment would benefit. People who live in developed countries are not happier than those who don't. That's a fact. And we should all ponder the irony of it.

13. You have no car. Nobody really needs one in HK. You can go anywhere you want by public transport, you also take any opportunity to walk, climb stairs and cycle, which keeps you fitter than going to the gym.

14. You are not defined by what you buy, but by what you treasure. Your rubbish bin fills up really slowly, as you recycle most of your waste. The less you buy, the more uses you will find for what you previously thought of as 'just waste'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Menstrual cups finally available in Hong Kong

This message is addressed to women. Every month you probably spend a lot of money buying menstrual pads or tampons. But money is not the only issue. These pads and tampons end up in landfills where they take decades to decompose.

Finally you have a cheap, reliable and environmentally-friendly alternative. Watson, the Hong Kong retailer, has agreed to stock menstrual cups made of silicon.
Though i won't buy one (I got mine online and have been using it for years) i highly recommend this product to all those women who still haven't tried it.

The menstrual cup is made of soft, non-latex, medical grade silicone. The cup is innovative, economical, comfortable, and environmentally-friendly.
It is designed to catch your menstrual flow rather than absorb it. Its bell shape allows the cup to fit snuggly and comfortably up against your vaginal walls, below but not touching your cervix. The cup should be emptied and rinsed at least every 8 to 12 hours, ideally in the privacy of your bathroom at home.

Menstrual cups can last up to 10 years. The initial cost for a cup is higher than for traditional hygiene device, but the cost is absorbed with each consecutive use.

Friday, September 25, 2009

De-grow or die

Serge Latouche, professor emeritus of economic science at the University of Paris-Sud, is one of the main proponents of "the society of de-growth". I was recently engaged in an animated debate about the merits of his vision, which prompted me to translate some key passages of his books 'Le Pari de la Décroissance' (The Bet of De-Growth) and 'Petit Traité de la Décroissance Sereine" (Small Treaty of Peaceful De-Growth) published in 2006 and 2007. Here i will offer some of his arguments.

De-growth does not mean negative growth. Negative growth is a self-contradictory expression, which just proves the domination of the collective imagination by the idea of growth.

On the other hand, de-growth is not the alternative to growth, but rather, a matrix of alternatives which would open up the space for human creativity again, once the cast of economic totalitarianism is removed. The de-growth society would not be the same in Texas and in the Chiapas, in Senegal and in Portugal. De-growth would open up anew the human adventure to the plurality of its possible destinies.

Growth for growth's sake is an insane objective, with disastrous consequences for the environment. The need for a 'de-growth' society stems from the certainty that the earth's resources and natural cycles cannot sustain the economic growth which is the essence of capitalism.

In place of the current dominant system, a new society is possible, one of assumed sobriety, where we all work less in order to live better lives, we consume less products but of better quality, we produce less waste and recycle more.

The new society would mean recuperating a sense of measure and a sustainable ecological footprint, and finding happiness in living together with others rather than in the frantic accumulation of gadgets.

It is difficult to break out of this addiction to growth especially because it is in the interest of the "dealers" – the multinational corporations and the political powers serving them - to keep us enslaved.

Alternative experiences and dissident groups - such as cooperatives, syndicates, the associations for the preservation of peasant agriculture, certain NGOs, local exchange systems, networks for knowledge exchange - represent pedagogical laboratories for the creation of "the new human being" demanded by the new society. They represent popular universities which can foster resistance and help decolonise the imaginary.

We should start re- conceptualising what we understand by poverty, scarcity and development for instance; restructuring society and the economy; restoring non-industrial practices, especially in agriculture; redistributing; re-localising; reusing; recycling.

As regards poor countries, Latouche proposes the virtuous cycle of the eight “Rs”: RECONCEPTUALIZING (i.e., redefining the concepts of wealth and poverty, scarcity and abundance); RESTRUCTURING (adapting society and economy to degrowth); RESTORING (first and foremost, peasant agriculture); REDISTRIBUTING; RELOCATING; REDUCING (i.e., limiting the impact of human beings on the environment); REUSING; RECYCLING.

In his book "Petit traité de la décroissance sereine" he proposes a political program of sorts, which can be summarized in the following points:
1) working our way back to an ecological footprint that is equal or inferior to a planet;
2) including in transportation costs the damages caused by transportation;
3) relocating industrial and agricultural activities;
4) reviving peasant agriculture;
5) converting productivity increases into reduction of working time and job creation;
6) stimulating the production of “relational commodities” such as friendship and knowledge;
7) reducing energy waste;
8) strongly penalizing advertising expenses;
9) taxing stock transactions, the profits of multinational companies, carbon emissions, and nuclear waste.

Having travelled to places regarded as poor (because of their GDP) i have come to question Western definitions of poverty.
Who is poor? The farmer who produces, sells and eats his fresh products, works 4 hours a day and spends the rest of the time with his family, socializing with his friends, playing music, making handcrafts, breathing clean air, and going for a walk whenever he likes or the white-collar worker, trapped in his office for 8-10 hours a day, then trapped in traffic to go home, where he eats junk food in front of his high-definition TV, surrounded by consumer products that will make him more miserable as soon as they become outdated and need replacing with new, 'state-of-the-art' ones?
And if someone argues that the white-collar worker might actually be happy to be chained to his gadgets, then i would reply that the white-collar worker's lifestyle is threatening the health and well-being of those who are losing their land because of global warming, those who are forced to breath polluted air, drink polluted water, eat contaminated crops, whose children develop cancer or are born with congenital deformities. The disappearance of animal species, local cultures and languages, the trashing and degradation of the environment, the use of war to secure resources, famine wages, etc. this is the price developing countries are paying so that he can happily consume. Someone has to start putting a price tag on the ravages of global consumerism.

In the past capitalist accumulation relied on slavery, but then discovered a much more effective way of enslaving people, consumerism. Now millions of people work long hours to be able to afford goods they don't need, and shop till they drop to achieve 'status' because 'having' has replaced 'being'. A major shift is needed in our consciousness, otherwise we will all go down together, rich and poor.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Horror Vacui in Hong Kong

HORROR VACUI (fear of emptiness in Latin), combined with a penchant for all things cute and pink, glossy surfaces, black leather sofas, neoclassical sculptures, gold paint and huge TV screens are de rigueur in HK. Unfortunately government officials have decided that the "kindergarten meets Las Vegas casino" aesthetics should not be limited to the interior of flats, residential blocks, office desks, shopping malls in the New Territories, etc. They want every corner of the city, including country parks and beaches, to be "beautified" in accordance to the dominant taste.

Thus unobtrusive railings are painted pink and white, the Leisure, Culture and Sports Department logo is repeated ad nauseam, stainless steel notice boards are erected even in the tiniest park, so that people can be reminded to 'wash their hands', huge vinyl banners in primary colours promote even the most obscure event organised by this or that department, or simply scream 'Drugs kill'.

Every public space must be packed with ads and warning signs, every festival becomes an excuse to 'decorate' the city with giant pink figurines, garish lights, flower pots etc. The shopping mall has become the golden standard for public spaces. Whereas in shopping malls brands have to pay to advertise their goods, government departments can freely promote themselves and their ill-conceived campaigns.

Let's just take one of these campaigns as an example. "Get Moving. Clean Hong Kong" reads one huge banner featuring three young people posing with a broom. Is this a contest? Or a new form of exercise involving broom sticks? Are we encouraged to become street sweepers because of the recession? After counting hundreds of these banners, i still don't know what the message is. Certainly taxpayers money would be better spent in increasing cleaners wages rather than producing these banners.

In parks and beaches more activities are banned than permitted. And of course huge signs and banners are there to remind us that we shouldn't skate, play with balls, burn wax, fly kites, lie on benches, walk dogs, listen to music, cycle, smoke, etc. As i look at this garish clutter of signs, my head starts spinning, i feel nauseous. Is throwing up permitted??
I don't see any sign mentioning vomit, but plenty of signs warn me to watch my property, lock doors and windows before leaving home, prevent gum disease by brushing my teeth (!) and even advise me to love my family members. WTF??

One wonders how we managed to safely use these places for decades before government departments started shouting their DO's and DON'Ts.

Officials who suffer from HORROR VACUI syndrome believe that streets and parks are too empty. They must have more banners, signs, public art or distinctive street furniture. Trees are too empty. They must be hung with Christmas lights or signs identifying their species. And let's not forget that trees are 'dangerous', they must be secured to the ground with ropes and cables, or enclosed in metal cages.

The horror...the horror!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This is The Age of Stupid

"Either we seriously tackle climate change or we wipe out most life on Earth. So it's not a tricky decision" (Franny Armstrong, director of The Age of Stupid)

Last night i was invited to watch the premiere of 'The Age of Stupid' at UA cinema in Times Square. Due to my late working hours, i missed the presentation, but managed to watch the movie. I really hope that this movie will be released in HK, though i think that those who should watch this movie will never buy a ticket to see it. It should be compulsory viewing for government officials, and should be screened in all schools to sensitize young viewers about the problems that their generation will face, unless something is done, NOW, by our generation.

The story is told in the voice of an ageing archivist - played by Pete Postlethwaite - looking back from the year 2055 on a world devastated by climate catastrophe.

Ensconced in a sea-bound tower harbouring a complete digital record of human history, the sadder and wiser archivist pulls up image files that tell the story of real people profiled by the filmmaker, Franny Armstrong.

"We could have saved ourselves, but we didn't. It's amazing. What state of mind were we in, to face extinction and simply shrug it off?", Postlethwaite's character says with a flash of anger.

Gazing back to our time, he details the lives of people whose stories intersect with global warming in different ways: a poor, aspiring medical student from Nigeria's oil rich Niger Delta; a young business scion starting up India's third "low cost" airline; a pair of child refugees from the war in Iraq; Piers Guy, struggling vainly against the opposition to a windfarm that could power several thousand households; an old French mountain guide who has watched Alpine glaciers retreat dozens of metres over his long career; and a retired oil company scientist in New Orleans, whose life was devastated by hurricane Kathrina, thinking out loud as to how future generations might look back our era if we fail to reign in global warming.

The movie is definitely worth seeing. If you cannot catch it in the theatre, watch it on DVD (you can buy it from and then lend it to as many people as possible. If you are a teacher, arrange a public screening in your school.

There have been so many wake-up calls, and yet we keep ignoring them, while we sleepwalk into the abyss.
Unless we all stop abusing natural resources, stop mindless consumerism, stop jetting around the globe, and stop eating meat, this planet will never be able to sustain its ballooning population. The war to secure water, oil, and food has already started, it can only turn much much uglier. The collapse of civilization as we know it looms very close. We can't keep dragging our feet.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Irresponsible use of vinyl banners

Vinyl banners have taken over Hong Kong.
Every building site, storefront and restaurant seems to be sporting a banner. As if this wasn't bad enough for the environment, government departments have jumped on the bandwagon and now use these banners for their public awareness campaigns. "Keep Hong Kong clean", "Don't drink and drive", "Drugs kill", "Prevent Japanese Encephalitis. Remove stagnant water", "Eliminate rodent nuisance", "Wash your hands" and even use them to promote temporary events such as museum exhibitions, concerts and festivals.

The effectiveness of these public campaigns has been questioned by many advertising experts who think that the public has grown tired of being addressed like a pre-schooler and that pedestrians and motorists are already bombarded with so many messages that they are too distracted to pay any notice. Besides, other channels such as radio, tv and the internet can be more effective, reducing the ecological impact of these campaigns.

As to choosing a strong, durable material to promote sport and cultural events that last for less than a month, this is by far the most absurd and irresponsible use.

Almost all banners are made of Vinyl PVC, a material that presents environmental concerns, both in its manufacture and its disposal.

It might be hard to curb their use in the private sector, but when taxpayers money is actually used to generate more waste for our overflowing landfills, one cannot help but doubt the sanity of our civil servants.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Plastic is NOT fantastic

The main problem with plastic - besides there being so much of it - is that it doesn't biodegrade. No natural process can break it down. Experts point out that the durability that makes plastic so useful to humans also makes it quite harmful to nature. Instead, plastic photodegrades. A plastic container cast out to sea will fragment into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic without breaking into simpler compounds, which scientists estimate could take hundreds of years. The small bits of plastic produced by photodegradation can get sucked up by filter feeders and damage their bodies. Other marine animals eat the plastic, which can poison them or lead to deadly blockages. Plastic threatens the entire food chain, especially when eaten by filter feeders that are then consumed by large creatures.

You have probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N and estimated to be twice the size of Texas. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.

Plastic chokes rivers, lakes, and oceans. It litters even the most remote areas of the planet. When burnt or incinerated it pollutes the air we breath. And let's not forget that the production of plastic is just as polluting and harmful to the environment as it is its disposal.

This is the legacy we are leaving to the next generations.
Despite that fact that plastic is not biodegradable our civilization is using it to produce billions of single-use, disposable items. Our throw-away culture hasn't been able to switch to natural materials simply because it's 'cheaper' to use plastic. An environmental tax on all plastic products is long overdue and would discourage the abuse of this material. It's time the environmental cost of plastic production and disposal is factored in so that other materials can become competitive, and people rethink their addiction to plastic.

What can the consumers do?
First of all, reuse and refill containers instead of throwing them away, drink filtered tap water instead of bottled water, if you have to eat and drink on the go, pack your own lunch box, always carry a flask, so that you can avoid disposable cups, when shopping choose products that leave no unwanted packaging behind, such as soap bars instead of liquid soap, buy fresh produce that is not pre-packaged, bring your own shopping bags, buy wooden toys instead of plastic ones, buy clothes made of natural fibers, and what is most important, reduce consumption. Buy only what you really really need. Buying more will not make you feel good, but it will certainly make you poorer and damage the environment.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Heung Yee Kuk seeks to legalize dumping on farmland

The mask is off. The Heung Yee Kuk’s latest bid to get a permission to operate landfills on land zoned for agriculture comes as no surprise to those who struggle to protect the green lungs of our city.

The Kuk is asking for a license to turn fishponds and farmland into a dump for excavation material, which will inevitably turn into a collection point for all kind of waste, including toxic waste.

Dumping on farmland is something that private landowners have been doing illegally for decades, causing irreversible damage to the ecosystem and defacing the countryside.

Legalizing such activity would only accelerate the ongoing destruction of green areas.

The Kuk represents the interests of thousands of native villagers, many of whom don’t even reside in Hong Kong, at the expense of the interests of millions of Hong Kong residents who seek an escape from the concrete.

We are losing green areas at an alarming pace. Future generations will ask what kind of people allowed this to happen. Today’s gain for a few will turn into tomorrow’s loss for many.

The government has the duty to develop a comprehensive strategy for the conservation of Hong Kong's natural assets which are fast disappearing due to irrational development. The Baptist University’s study commissioned by the Kuk would only produce the results that the Kuk expects. It cannot be regarded as an independent study because environmental and residents’ associations have no say in it.

So far government departments have been unable to take effective action against illegal dumping.
Lamma residents who have been fighting one such case know all too well that neither the EPD nor the DSD could stop a private landowner dumping construction and other waste on land zoned for agricultural use in the Yung Shue Long valley, despite the fact that his actions blocked a stream and caused flooding.
The dumping has now completely buried a lily pond, destroyed a breeding ground for the protected Romer’s tree frog, partially obstructed a stream and blocked drainage from the neighbouring fields, which are farmed to produce vegetables sold locally. This eyesore is endured by those who live nearby and property prices have been affected.

Prior to this dumping activity, the Drainage Services Department carried out significant drainage works, a multi-million project that was designed to alleviate flooding in the valley and is now just a concrete monument to the squandering of public finances.

Mongkok makeover will kill street life as we know it

I am horrified by the URA’s project to turn five streets in Mongkok into a 'theme park' for tourists (ref.SCMP. 1-09-09)

Does the Urban Renewal Authority truly know what tourists want to see? I can only speak for my visitors from Europe, and I would say that what draws them to Mongkok is the chance to see local people's way of life under conditions of extreme density: the crowds, sounds, smells and sights that are fast disappearing from other parts of Hong Kong.
What they are not interested in is a sterile and over-regulated environment, paved with blue tiles and dotted with giant goldfish and seashells.
They certainly welcome the idea of walking in a pedestrian friendly zone and get some respite from traffic fumes, but feel that repaving the streets with glossy tiles would make them less authentic.

Giant themed sculptures would only accelerate the lamentable disneyfication of public space. Those who like Disney aesthetics are already catered for, the rest of us have the right to enjoy streets that are not over-themed, over-designed and banalised.

Childish and tacky sculptures may be fit for shopping malls but shouldn’t blight our public space.