Hong Kong through the Looking Glass:
Dear Santa,
by Dante Archangeli

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A Series on Sustainable Planet, People + Prosperity


We interrupt our normally scheduled posts for a special Holiday Season message . . .

Dear Santa Claus, may I tell you the holiday sustainability cheer that I hope you will have Hong Kong’s CY Leung “Santa” and America’s John Boehner “Claus” deliver?

Although some say that CY and JB only give presents to their friends and other rich boys and girls, I trust they still believe in the spirit of Christmas – Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Everyone. Or in the case of CY, the spirit of Lunar New Year, which I hope is similar. Even if the spirit isn’t comparable, at least the gift giving is.

Since mid-July 2014 emitting ship smoke this dark has probably been illegal in Hong Kong waters.
Only since mid-July 2014, has emitting ship smoke this dark, like the MSC Daniela did, been illegal in Hong Kong waters.

I’ve tried to be good this past year, although I did visit Umbrella Movement sites several times and even talked with people there. Based on CY’s example, I guess I shouldn’t have done that. But in my defense, I talked with police officers as well as demonstrators, and pretty much everyone seemed to be a reasonable person placed in an unreasonable situation. I believe that most police in Hong Kong, as well as the U.S., recent problems notwithstanding, are not much different from the rest of us. Maybe CY would find the same to be true of people who want democracy and those who don’t make much money, if he talked with them. I didn’t vote for many of JB’s Arizona elves in the last election. But cross-my-heart and hope-to-die, I’d vote for John “torture is bad” McCain if he ran in an election against Dick “I’d torture again” Cheney.

Anyway here’s my list.

Emitting smoke like this is still legal.
Emitting smoke like this is still legal.

Reduce HK air pollution caused by shipping.

If the MSC Daniela freighter comes back past Sandy Bay, this time I hope to nail its dirty stern. I documented that rascal’s black smoke polluting the heck out of the air early last July and the Marine Department took a deposition. But that was before the new “smoky vessel” ordinance was passed, and back then the Marine Department felt that copious black smoke alone didn’t meet the old ordinance’s definition of “nuisance”. So no action was taken. With the new ordinance, perhaps I’d have better luck. But even under the new ordinance, if the smoke isn’t nearly black it’s still not considered a problem. So I hope CY’s 2015 Policy Address will propose an ordinance with real teeth to take a bite out of the air pollution caused by big ships traveling, not just docked, in Hong Kong waters.

It takes a lot of coal when the Lamma Island power plant is operating at 100%
It takes a lot of coal when the Lamma Island power plant is operating at full capacity.

Install air pollution monitors in HK’s Southern District.

In conjunction with the above, would you also have the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department expand its Air Quality Monitoring Network to include an air pollution monitor or two on the south side of Hong Kong Island? There aren’t any now, even though we are adjacent to the East Lamma Channel, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and the Hong Kong Electric coal-fired Lamma Island power plant. I’d like to know the quality of the air outside my home and bet that people in Cyberport, Aberdeen, Repulse Bay, and other Southern District communities would too. Although the Southern District overall is poor, it also contains a number of affluent neighborhoods. Perhaps if the air there is worse than most people assume, CY’s south-side backers might even support stronger ship emissions control measures.

World air pollution.  (source http://epi.yale.edu/pollution-map/)
World air pollution. (source: epi.yale.edu/pollution-map/)

Make polluters pay the full cost of pollution.

Although the air of the U.S. (Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranking of 38 out of 178) is far better than that of China’s (EPI ranking of 176 out of 178), it’s still worse than the air of other developed countries like Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. So there’s much more that America can do to improve its air quality. Even if you don’t believe that global warming is man-made or a problem, doesn’t it still make sense to minimize polluting the air we breathe? So please have JB support legislation that makes polluters pay the full cost of the pollution that they create. Isn’t that how capitalism and the free market system is supposed to work? And wouldn’t that be more fair than the current system that privatizes polluters’ profits while socializing pollution’s costs, for example diminished public health?

Free market theory requires that buyers have full information about their choices.  AHCA's Marketplace provides that.
Free market theory requires that buyers have full information about their purchase options. AHCA’s Healthcare Marketplace provides that. (source: HealthCare.gov)

Refine if necessary, don’t repeal, U.S.’s AHCA.

Speaking of public health, could JB please stop demonizing the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) and instead present his disagreements and suggestions for improvement with rationality not sound bites. After a year in full operation, the AHCA system, although not ideal, seems to have improved the U.S. health landscape. It appears that a higher percentage of Americans are now covered by health insurance, and prior health conditions no longer preclude anyone from being able to obtain insurance at group rates. From a consumer perspective, the choice transparency that the Healthcare Marketplace provides is wonderful. There may be ways that AHCA could be improved, but calling for its repeal without addressing the problems that would return with its abolition is demagoguery not governance.

Too much plastic never makes it to landfills or recyclers.
Too much plastic never makes it to landfills or recyclers.

Incentivize plastic recycling.

As discussed in a previous post, plastic litter is a world-wide problem–even on Midway Atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from the nearest population center. Plastic does not biodegrade and far too much plastic is not recycled or even disposed of properly. Please enact laws in Hong Kong and the U.S. that require end-users to pay large deposits on all plastic containers. Deposits would be refunded when the empty containers were taken to a recycling collection center, preferably, but not necessarily, at the store where the purchase was made.

Not seeing exhaust doesn't mean that there isn't pollution.
Not seeing exhaust doesn’t mean that there isn’t pollution.

Require HK vehicle emissions testing.

Hong Kong is rightfully proud that essentially all of its taxis and 66% of its public minibuses are powered by LPG (propane) engines which when properly maintained are less polluting than gasoline or diesel engines. But according to A Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong 80% of the taxis and 45% of the LPG buses are not properly maintained and thus emit ten times more pollution than they should, even though their exhaust may not be visible. Unlike most other large cities of the developed world, Hong Kong does not require any vehicle emissions testing. Please require annual emissions testing for all vehicles, commercial and private, to verify that they meet the emissions standards for which they are designed. If a vehicle doesn’t pass, prohibit it from the roads until it is properly repaired and passes the test.

These sewer pipes discharge directly into a stream that flows to the South China Sea half a kilometer away.
These sewer pipes discharge directly into a stream that flows to the South China Sea half a kilometer away.

Connect all HK buildings to a sewer or septic system.

As of April 2010 there were approximately 850 villages in the New Territories that were not connected to a sewer system. Even today within 1 kilometer of my Hong Kong Island Pokfulam upscale neighborhood there are houses in the Tai Hau Wan Village that discharge their sewage directly into streams that flow to the ocean. No wonder HK has so many red tides. This is embarrassing for a city that prides itself on being world class. Please ensure that all HK buildings are connected to a properly functioning sewer or septic system. And for septic systems, require regular testing to verify that they continue to function correctly.

There could be lots more wishes on the list, but the ones above will do for a start.



Dante Archangeli moved to Hong Kong from Tucson, Arizona, where he focused on sustainable construction and development. He is an MIT and USC educated project manager, entrepreneur, and builder.

Twin Santa Photoshop collage by Marina Archangeli.  All other images by Dante Archangeli except where noted.

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