Protesting Smog, Hong Kong Dims Sum Lights

Tuesday night was unusually dark in Hong Kong, thanks to a grassroots campaign that called on citizens to switch their lights off in protest of the city's growing pollution problems. A survey estimated that 60 percent of the city's residents would be participating in what organizers called "the biggest protest ever in Hong Kong," thanks in part to a city-wide campaign that included SMS reminders from local mobile phone providers. Still, while the city's Legislative Council joined in, switching off the lights at its historic downtown chamber house for three minutes at 8 pm, Hong Kong's political leader Donald Tsang decided to snub the protest, claiming it would look bad for the city. Something also looks bad about 1,600 people a year dying of pollution-related illnesses and lost productivity and health care totaling 2.57 billion US dollars a year. Despite its yen for electricity consumption--most evident in its flashy buildings, nightly light shows, and ubiquitious air conditioning--Hong Kong for a while seemed to have avoided the smoggy plight of big, less-regulated mainland Chinese cities like Chongqing or Beijing. But now "Asia's world city" is now considered more polluted than Shanghai, thanks, leaders say, to the pollution drifting in from factories along China's Pearl River Delta. That blame game doesn't go very far, considering that many of those factories are operated by companies based in business-friendly Hong Kong. Or, rather, formerly business-friendly: in April, the human-resources consulting firm ECA International lowered Hong Kong 12 spots to No. 32 in its annual ranking of the most livable cities for Asian expatriates, chiefly on the basis of air pollution. (Singapore was No. 1; on Friday, the Financial Times' front page read: "Singapore feels the benefit of Hong Kong's pollution")

Also ironic was the explanation by Hong Kong chief executive Tsang (who recently launched his own clean-air campaign) for why the city refused to turn off its nightly Symphony of Lights laser-and-light show: "It could...give adverse publicity to Hong Kong as an international metropolis and a major tourist attraction" and would send "a misleading message to the international community that protecting the environment is inconsistent with modern life."

Just to clarify that: sure, smog may be clogging our lungs, but there's nothing quite like a nice (coal powered) light show to keep tourists happy and protect "modern life."

Considering the city's smoggy haze, Tsang might have also argued, the light show may be one of the surest ways to even see the city at all.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur via : : Monsters and Critics. Hong Kong's The Standard reports on the campaign and the pollution here and here; Time Asia recently delved into Hong Kong's smog problems too.