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Disappointed By Light Pollution

Updated on Feb 11, 2009 – SCMP

On Saturday night, I went with my family to the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui, where an event was being held to mark the opening night of the International Year of Astronomy. It was organised by IYA 2009 Hong Kong League, formed by local astronomy organisations to get Hongkongers more interested in the subject.

Various telescopes were located around the pavement and we were delighted by what we could see.

So great was the magnification in one telescope that we were able to see the craters of the moon.

However, I was surprised to observe that the neon lights on skyscrapers had not been turned off even for this special event.

If Hong Kong, as a community, had agreed to switch off these neon lights, people would have been able to see more stars through the telescopes on Saturday night.

Also it would have been seen as an energy-saving measure on this special day.

It shows how little is being done to save the night sky from this light pollution.

Aishu Venkat, Mid-Levels

Stargazing Event To Show Wonders Of The Universe

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Updated on Feb 07, 2009

The largest collective stargazing activity ever organised on the harbourfront will be held this evening to kick off a series of events to mark International Year Astronomy 2009. About 100 telescopes will be placed along Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront promenade at 6pm, giving members of the public a chance to get a glimpse of the universe.

The event is organised by the IYA 2009 Hong Kong League, a coalition of astronomy groups and amateur stargazers who want to popularise the activity among Hongkongers.

“Stargazing has become a hot topic and more people have been talking about it after the first Chinese spacewalk mission. It will be good for us to keep up the momentum,” said Leung Kam-cheung, spokesman for the league.

Similar activities might be held in each of the 18 districts, if the right venues could be located, to give the public a better opportunity to learn what stargazing was about, he said.

The climax of the celebrations would be a “star party” for 1,000 people at the end of this year at the Sai Kung Astropark, now under construction next to a water sports centre near the High Island Reservoir.

The park, the first of its kind in the city, will provide permanent facilities for stargazers and education materials for the public.

Although worsening air and light pollution were the biggest obstacles to stargazers in the city, most people were actually very curious and interested in astronomy, Mr Leung said.

“Many of them had thought there were no stars or planets visible from our city, and were very surprised when we pointed out that Venus and Jupiter could be seen with the naked eye,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it is tragic that most Hong Kong people have lost their clear night sky to light pollution and haze. They can hardly see eight stars in the sky, let alone a galaxy.”

Mr Leung said the league would continue to talk to the government about setting up “night sky conservation zones” – areas where light pollution would be restricted – within country parks, or in the vicinity of the Astropark, to be managed by the Space Museum.

He said one of its key aims this year was to minimise light pollution in the city.

Green Policy A Problem

Green policy a problem, says expert

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Jan 31, 2009 – SCMP

The government has wrongly believed that environmental protection was just about saving energy, and its green policy might create long-term problems, a leading academic says. Ron Hui Shu-yuen, of City University’s department of electronic engineering, said that banning fluorescent light bulbs could save energy but, without a proper way to dispose of them, would exacerbate another environmental
problem: mercury pollution.

He urged environmental officials to think before introducing energy-conservation policies, and to provide sufficient backup measures to address the side effects of such policies.

“Clearly the government has an incorrect understanding of environmental protection by equating it with energy saving,” Professor Hui said.

He said that without an effective recycling system for mercury-laden fluorescent light bulbs there would be increased toxins in the air caused by used bulbs breaking when they were improperly collected.

Professor Hui said the current recovery system, which relied on waste producers to take the bulbs to the Tsing Yi chemical waste treatment facility, was neither sufficient nor effective.

He said a major overseas light bulb manufacturer was close to commercial production of mercury-free energy-saving bulbs, and they would eventually replace fluorescent light bulbs on sale.

Professor Hui said television sets would similarly lead to more pollution because they also contained numerous toxic substances, particularly the older models that used cathode ray tubes.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said it would “give due weight to relevant
environmental considerations in formulating relevant policy and implementation proposals” of phasing out the light bulbs.

Complaints Over Lights Double

Martin Wong, SCMP – 8 Jan 09

Complaints over lights have doubled, the environmental secretary revealed yesterday. Edward Yau Tang-wah said the number of light-pollution complaints was 82 last year, compared with 40 in 2007 and 35 in 2006. In view of energy wastage, the government would launch a consultancy study, exchange views with environmental protection groups, and assess the feasibility of regulating external lighting this year, Mr Yau said.

Put Clocks Forward To Cut Down On Eectricity Consumption

SCMP – Updated on Jan 06, 2009

Letters have appeared in these columns advocating so-called “energy efficient” light bulbs and criticising excessive lighting of buildings, described as light pollution.

The spectacular night view of the harbour is one of our tourist attractions, but it comes at a cost. As darkness falls, the lights come on, everywhere in Hong Kong, consuming electricity which pollutes our air and contributes to global warming. It would cost a fortune to replace every bulb with energy efficient bulbs and as Robert Hanson points out (“Energy saving bulbs do not live up to name”, January 3), these bulbs are more damaging to the environment than conventional bulbs. Fortunately there are other ways to save electricity, ones with no adverse ecological effects. On the shortest day of last year and including the twilight periods at the end of the day, we had daylight from 6.33am to 6.09pm. In June we will have daylight at 5.15am. Do we need daylight so early in the morning?

If we advance our clocks and adopt GMT plus nine hours as our standard time throughout the year, we will avoid wasting morning daylight and postpone the need for evening lighting by one hour. We had daylight saving from 1941 to 1979. Clocks were put forward an hour from the beginning of April to the end of October. In 1973 the government responded to the oil price crisis by implementing daylight saving from December 1973 to October 1974. We now have energy, pollution and global warming crises and similar measures are called for.

In 1974 we had double-shift schools and factory shifts and early daylight was deemed necessary, but today our schools are single shift, our factories have gone and we are a 9 to 5 economy. We do not need early daylight. If we also have summer daylight saving (GMT plus 10), on the longest day of the year dawn would break at 7.15am and daylight would last until 9.35pm. The electricity savings and social benefits would be significant.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has said the developed world should tackle climate change and alter its unsustainable lifestyle. Hong Kong is part of the developed world and part of China. We must act responsibly and set an example.

Robert L. Wilson, Discovery Bay

Hopewell Centre to Turn off Lights

SCMP – 12 December 2008

Decorative lights facing The Peak on the outside of the Hopewell Centre in Wan Chai would be turned off each night after the Symphony of Lights to reduce light pollution, but those facing the harbour would remain on, Hopewell Holdings (SEHK: 0054) said. But all lights would remain on for special occasions, such as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Lunar New Year and other important festivals.

Greens Cite Cancer Risk in Call to Dim Lights

Peter So and Tiffany Lam, SCMP – Updated on Dec 08, 2008

More than 1,300 street lights on residential buildings are a cancer risk for residents, a green group has warned.

Friends of the Earth said it wants the government to speed up efforts to reduce their glare and, while conceding that about 600 of a total of 1,900 lights attached to buildings had been refitted with flat-glass enclosures to reduce glare, the group said that only nine had been fitted with side panels.

The group said there were still many residents suffering disturbed sleep because of inescapable lights illuminating their bedrooms.

A physiologist has said chronic exposure to night light disrupted humans’ biological clocks and damaged their immune systems.

At worst, people suffering chronic exposure were at risk of developing cancers of the breast, gastrointestinal tract, prostate, womb and cervix, Pang Shiu-fun, a retired physiology professor formerly of the University of Hong Kong, has been quoted as saying in medical reports.

According to Highways Department figures, about 1,900 streetlights are fixed to buildings in the city. Of those, about 1,300 are attached to residential blocks, mainly in Wan Chai, Central, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said the government had promised in September that all offending lights would be refitted within a year.

He said, however, only nine streetlights attached to buildings had been fitted with side panels. “The progress is simply too slow.” Mr Chu wondered why the government had been so slow, as the cost of light refits was minimal.

The green group recently conducted a survey on the impact of streetlights on residents. One respondent surnamed Au-yeung – an elderly man living in Wan Chai with a streetlight fixed outside his flat – said it illuminated his bedroom all night despite thick curtains. Mr Au-yeung said he hardly slept more than four hours a night and often woke up because of the strong light.

“I started with half a pill to put me to sleep. Now I have to have 1-1/2 pills,” Mr Au-yeung said, adding he had once collapsed in his living room after overdosing on sleeping pills and ended up in hospital.

Mr Chu said many residents simply put up with the glare or were confused about to whom to complain, so recorded complaints about street lighting had remained low. He said complaints could be made to the Environmental Protection Department on 2838 3111 or to the Highways Department on 2926 4111.

A Highways Department spokesman said it had received 10 complaints about street lights in the first eight months of this year, adding that the department would assess the 10 lights’ effect on residents. If necessary, it would relocate lights, refit them with complete flat-glass lanterns or install side panels.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of the green group, urged the government to speed up legislation to regulate light pollution.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said yesterday billboards with unnecessarily bright lights were “a waste”. He said the government had approached businesses about light pollution.

Energy Law Shows Way To Combat Global Warming

David Chan – SCMP | Updated on Nov 05, 2008

On October 1, National Day, an important piece of legislation known as the Civil Energy Act came into effect.

The law has six chapters and 45 articles detailing the country’s vision of how to deal with the effect of global warming. There are chapters on energy savings for new and existing buildings, savings that may be achieved through the energy supply system, and legal liabilities for non-compliance.

The legislation seeks to promote energy savings and increase efficiency in the use of energy in buildings. The provisions are all-encompassing and include residential, commercial, service, educational and health-care buildings. It also seeks to encourage the development of solar, geothermal and other alternative energy sources.

National state offices will be established for long-term planning, co-ordination, standard setting and implementation of policies, while provincial offices will be responsible for supervision and exploring financing options.

The law provides tax breaks and possible changes to tariffs to promote energy savings and also imposes penalties for violations.

Chapter 2 deals with new buildings and promotes the use of new technologies and state-of-the-art materials. It restricts the use of materials with high-energy consumption. It also has provisions for building design, including penalties for designs that are not energy-efficient, and compulsory use of better thermal materials, heating and cooling systems and lighting.

Chapter 3 details how existing buildings must make necessary changes in a co-ordinated manner and empowers local governments to make assessments on whether energy-saving systems can be retrofitted. All governmental buildings are to draw up feasibility plans while old private residential buildings are encouraged to make low-cost improvements.

In Chapter 4 the law provides regulations to monitor the operation of large public buildings and record annual energy consumption.

Due to the increased sophistication of building systems, the training of technicians should be enhanced and improved. Targets will be set by respective city governments for individual public buildings.

The new regulations will have an impact on developers and investors in the country’s property market. They need to keep themselves abreast with pertinent provisions of the law, especially on the available technologies and which are applicable and advantageous to their properties.

It will be interesting to see whether the new law will have a huge impact on the country’s air pollution problem and energy consumption.

The legislation may also see in the near term a commitment in other areas of building sustainability. It may also lead to a change in the voluntary rating system for building sustainability or the three-star labelling system which was introduced in 2006, into something mandatory.

This could encompass areas such as water efficiency, use of sustainable materials, waste and pollution reduction, and ecology.

For Hong Kong, the passage of the new law should put pressure on the administration of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to also address issues pertaining to energy use and building design. At present, the city has no mandatory building energy code, although a proposal is likely to be sent to the Legislative Council next year.

A task force of consultants has been created to advise the Hong Kong government on the technicalities of such a legislation. While one hopes the scope of the bill will be comprehensive, the likely result would cover only energy consumption based on the current voluntary energy codes.

From a practical point of view, the legislation could encompass areas such as light pollution, that may raise controversies. Would locals and tourists alike prefer to see Hong Kong Island’s bright advertising lights dimmed to achieve cleaner air? Nonetheless, I’m sure all building users would welcome a reduction in management fees from lower electricity usage.

The proposed Hong Kong legislation is only targeting commercial buildings, or about 20 per cent of the city’s building stock.

While a phased introduction – that is, targeting larger energy-consuming buildings first – is desirable, we must not exclude residential buildings that account for 50 per cent of our building stock.

Many of Hong Kong’s residential buildings were built decades ago and will need significant upgrades, which means added cost, to make them compliant to even very basic energy standards.

Many of the new residential towers that are rising in the city have little or no energy-efficiency features.

As such, any new legislation on energy use in Hong Kong is likely to be less comprehensive than the mainland counterpart.

Still, a watered-down energy legislation is better than none at all, as it is still a significant step towards developing sustainable buildings. We could also assume that the Legco will pass the bill speedily as many members have publicly indicated their commitment to the environment.

The government can promote the issue of efficient energy use by engaging the community in an active and intelligent discussion of the issue.

The bill should provide government departments with the tools to effectively manage those who will be directly affected by the legislation, namely, developers and landlords, building management companies and building owners.

It is our hope that through such a legislation and its implementation, Hong Kong will do its bit in reducing global warming.

David Chan is an architect and a director of an international property consultancy

Brand-name Shops Accused Of Light Pollution

SCMP | Updated on Oct 31, 2008

A green group has accused five brand-name shops of excessive use of lighting on their outlets’ exterior walls and in advertising that has caused electric-light pollution in Central. The five shops are Louis Vuitton in The Landmark, H&M in Queen’s Road Central, the flagship shop of Coach in Central, Miu Miu in The Landmark and Dunhill in the Prince’s Building. The group Friends of the Earth patrolled Central at midnight on Wednesday and found the outlets all “glowing”, the group’s environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said. “We do not object to reasonable commercial lighting but we are against wasteful lighting and light nuisances,” he said. “We oppose the shops’ overemphasis on profit-making at the expense of the environment.”

Should There Be Laws To Control Light Pollution?

SCMP | Updated on Oct 31, 2008

It seems that people are becoming more aware of the effects of climate change.

We appreciate the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet although people have this awareness, many do little in the form of practical action to curb the effects of global warming.

We must address environmental issues, because the problems we create are damaging Hong Kong’s reputation.

For example, regulations must be introduced to control the problems caused by light pollution. You see brightly lit advertising signboards. They remain switched on throughout the night, which is unnecessary.

We must have laws that ban this waste of energy.

Mandy Chan Man-hang, Lai Chi Kok