October 22, 2008

Hong Kong Should Control Light Pollution

Hong Kong, one of the world's most densely built-up and populated metropolises, is under pressure from green groups to curb its energy use from neon signs and lighted advertising.

With the popularity of green consciousness and global warming fears, environmentalists are increasingly critical of this ostentatious display, calling it unnecessary and wasteful.

Hahn Chu, the environmental affairs manager for Friends of the Earth, said the trend is getting worse and worse: "Hong Kong always thinks the brighter things are, the more prosperous we seem, but people often forget that we're wasting energy."

A recent public opinion poll on energy conservation by the Council for Sustainable Development found 71 percent of over 80,000 people backed turning off neon lights in the small hours.

The city's environmental protection department received some 50 complaints about light pollution in 2008, up from the 40 cases received in 2007, with neon signs posing a growing nuisance for the public.

One of the worst offenders in an online poll was a massive neon sign advertising luxury brand Prada that blasted an intense white light onto a near-deserted Central street until till 5 a.m. every day.

One respondent called it a flamboyant wastage that creates light pollution.

A Prada spokesperson in Hong Kong said the company was "actively seeking a solution and we will reduce the lighting", but offered no specifics.

Friends of the Earth called on retailers and building owners to set a lights-off time after business hours to conserve energy and reduce emissions.

Hong Kong's electricity consumption grew 18 percent between 1997-2006, outpacing local population growth of 5.9 percent in the same period, the group said.

Light pollution is not a new concept for Hong Kong.

Photographs of global "artificial night sky brightness" from NASA display a conspicuous "luminous fog" around much of Western Europe and North America as well much of Japan, Taiwan, while Hong Kong shows up as a bright spot in the southern China region.

Light pollution has become so pronounced that two thirds of the U.S. population and about half the EU are no longer able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye, according to global experts.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang, in his annual policy address last week, said the government would "assess the problem of energy wastage of external lighting and study the feasibility of tackling the problem through legislation."

Image Courtesy Wikipedia