June 22, 2010

Air Conditioners Heating Up Hong Kong

Scientists say that as Hong Kong steams into summer, millions of air conditioners kick in to cool the sweltering city, ensuring that the future will be even hotter.

"I don't think I can live without air cons," 45-year-old accountant Angus Lee told AFP news.

"I don't think I can function properly in Hong Kong's heat -- I need to be cool in order to think."

However, having air conditioner comes at a heavy environmental price.

Scientists said that Hong Kong will have almost no winter by the end of the century as the electricity guzzlers help heat up the city.

"Local temperatures are rising at a speed of 0.6 degrees Celsius each decade, more than three times the global average," said Lee Boon-ying, director of the Hong Kong Observatory.

"The excessive use of any electricity-powered machines like air conditioners will accelerate global warming, raising temperatures."

Scientists link climate change to the greenhouse effect, in which gases emitted by burning fossil fuels like coal to produce energy trap heat in the atmosphere.

According to government figures, air conditioners account for about 60 percent of Hong Kong's electricity usage in the hot, humid, sub-tropical summers.

Environmentalists are becoming enraged as the city is notorious for its over-chilled interiors, from arctic shopping malls to icy bank towers, with many street-side shops leaving their doors open and letting the cool air out.

Popular travel guide Lonely Planet warns travelers of the big chill, saying, "temperatures are set so low you may find your extremities turning blue."

The government recommends buildings set all indoor temperatures to 77.9 degrees Fahrenheit, but there is no legislation to force compliance.

AFP measurements inside some of Hong Kong's major shopping malls showed indoor temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said it will investigate any complaints and press the venues to use air-conditioning efficiently.

Hong Kong is not the only place growing a dependence on cooler air.

According to a report by U.S. based- Global Industry Analysts, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for about half of global demand in 2008, and is the fastest growing market worldwide as income levels rise.

EPD spokeswoman Eva Wong said a large percentage of Hong Kong's air conditioners also use hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), but less-harmful refrigerants are available.

She said the environmental watchdog hopes to reduce consumption of HCFCs, which experts say deplete the ozone layer and contribute to climate change.

Fighting climate change by putting cleaner vehicles on Hong Kong's jam-packed streets and cutting pollution from thousands of factories in nearby Guangdong province on China's mainland may be a big challenge.

Friends of the Earth Hong Kong environmental affairs manage Hahn Chu said that the simple fan would go a long way in attacking the city's contribution to global warming.

"No one wants to live in a sweatbox, and although replacing your air con with a greener version is one option, there are other ways to keep cool, like using fans," he said.


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