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October, 2008:

Winning Toy Designer Reinvents Light Bulb

Peter So – SCMP | Updated on Oct 25, 2008

An environmentally friendly “sticker lamp” as thin as a magazine cover has won a local toy designer a top award in the Seoul Design Competition – Hong Kong’s first and only winner in the contest.

Keikko Lee Wing-lam, 26, came up with the idea of a lamp with electroluminescent material on one side and solar panels and sensors on the other. The electroluminescent material gives out light when an electric current is passed through it, in this case generated by the solar panels.

Users attach the lamp’s sticky solar side to a window to absorb sunlight, Ms Lee said. At night, it can be taken down and placed in a room to provide light. When the power runs out, the lamp can be returned to the window to recharge.

“No extra electricity is needed,” said Ms Lee, a graduate of Polytechnic University’s school of design.

The concept landed her the gold prize in the Seoul Design Competition, which was part of the international Seoul Design Olympiad 2008, held this month.

The aim of the contest is to encourage environmentally friendly and creative design solutions for a sustainable city life.

Since the lamp is very thin and light, Ms Lee said it could reduce complicated manufacturing procedures and save on raw materials.

“I believe not only the product itself has to be ecological, but the manufacturing process should be ecological too, in order to make our environment better. Pollution and [power] usage will be reduced correspondingly.”

Ms Lee said she found the electroluminescent material on the internet three months ago and wondered why such an ecological substance had not been put to wide use.

Although the idea had yet to become a finished product, Ms Lee was confident it would be workable.

Should There Be Laws To Control Light Pollution?

SCMP | Updated on Oct 25, 2008

You see neon lights all over Hong Kong. It does not matter where you are – Mong Kok, Central or Causeway Bay – you cannot escape them.

These neon [and other kinds of] lights sometimes illuminate advertising billboards and your attention is drawn to the product being promoted. But they are also a major cause of light pollution.

A simple solution would be to introduce laws restricting the size of neon lights and the length of time they can be turned on.

However, there is a problem with passing such laws. Hong Kong is famous for its neon lights. Many tourists look forward to seeing the harbour at night, with its neon signs on top of the high-rise buildings.

If strict regulations are imposed, this spectacular view could disappear and some people might decide not to visit Hong Kong.

Economic factors are always considered to be a high priority, but what about environmental factors? Light pollution may not be a serious problem for some residents, but it does adversely affect animals. Nocturnal animals are especially sensitive when it comes to the intensity of some lights.

If lights are too bright, it can affect their life cycle. For example, it must be very difficult for owls, which hunt when it is dark.

I think we do need to enact some laws to control this form of pollution. Apart from helping animals, it can ensure those residents who are affected by strong lights can enjoy a good night’s sleep.

B. Leung, Lai Chi Kok

I strongly support the idea of expediting legislation to ease the severe light-pollution problem in Hong Kong.

The reason is twofold. First and foremost, we cannot tolerate a deteriorating situation.

Even at midnight in Mong Kok, you can still see neon lights on. It does not even feel as if it is night. How can residents have a proper night’s sleep with all these billboards lit up?

These upmarket fashion firms which use the lights to advertise their products do not seem to care about our Earth. They care more about making a profit than trying to be environmentally friendly.

The government should take prompt action now to stop shops from keeping exterior lights on at night and lit-up billboards.

Our officials can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.

Zalon Wong, To Kwa Wan

I strongly support the introduction of laws to control this form of pollution.

Many lights in the city are kept switched on when they are not needed, for example to illuminate advertising billboards throughout the night.

How many people will actually look at these billboards at 1am?

The excess of neon lights, floodlights and other lights near residential buildings is not good for the city. They consume a lot of electricity which in turn increases carbon dioxide emissions and these emissions are a cause of global warming. They disturb residents living nearby who have difficulty sleeping.

Even badly designed street lights are a problem. They should be modified so the beam of light is directed to the ground and not upwards. I am interested in astronomy and it really saddens when my efforts to stargaze are impeded in the name of development. This is not progress, it is just the building of more flats so property developers can line their pockets. I believe a reasonable regulation should be introduced, which would mean all floodlights on buildings (for example IFC and Bank of China) should be switched off after midnight.

Virginia Yue, Tsuen Wan

The Moon May Solve Our Energy Problems

Celebrity vet Eric Lai shares his views on society through the eyes of animals. Give him your feedback at
Dr Eric Lai – SCMP | Updated on Oct 24, 2008

Like many young people, I was brought up with a healthy dose of information about space exploration to stimulate my imagination. I’m not exactly sure what is so enticing about the mysteries of space, but I suspect it is similar to what prehistoric man saw as he looked up at the myriad stars and planets.

We are essentially looking at the same sky and, when I find myself on holiday somewhere on a pristine beach away from the light pollution of Hong Kong, I am reminded of the immensity of the universe, with its unfathomable size that generates so much awe and humbles mankind. I may know a little more about the cosmos than our prehistoric ancestors, but probably not that much more in the context of the whole universe.

I remember seeing Halley’s Comet on its last visit in 1986 and, in the same year, Voyager 2’s flyby of Uranus. It was simply a stunning time to be alive, to witness such events as they happened.

During the 1990s space exploration really did slow down, as the countries of the world came back down to Earth to handle the more mundane problem of running the planet and its inhabitants.

But I have noticed in the past year that there seems to be something stirring in the sphere of space exploration, rather than just rhetoric. Several new countries are vying for space real estate left over by the US and the former Soviet Union. There was also the recent unmanned mission to the moon, Chang’e 1. It was the first phase of the Chinese lunar programme, which will hopefully end with ore samples from the moon and, one day, a base there. Then there was the launch of the Indian Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft this week. Like the Chang’e mission, it will send a robotic satellite that will orbit the moon and map the surface. Both hope to find subsurface water and a resource called helium-3.

Just hearing this news of space exploration on the radio and television in the past year has made the less imaginative and more practical part of me wonder why these countries are so belatedly sending missions to the moon when the Americans already did so with the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. I can’t imagine any government spending billions of dollars simply for national pride anymore. Like the western world, China has grown beyond the darker times of propaganda into an era of modern communications, where the truth can’t be muffled so easily. So why are China, India, the United States and even countries like Kenya showing renewed interest in the moon?

I found the answer when I heard the term “helium-3” mentioned, although I was surprised it was the reason. When I was doing physics, I learnt that helium-3 is a non-radioactive isotope of regular helium-4. The beauty of helium-3 in a fusion reactor is that the byproducts are less radioactive and, hence, produce less radioactive waste. Current fusion-type reactions indirectly create electricity by heating up water, but when using helium-3, water is not needed and electricity can be generated directly in a more efficient process.

I remember raising my hand in our physics lecture when I first learned about this process to ask the lecturer why we weren’t using it, because it sounded too good to be true. He said: “Helium-3 is rare on Earth and the total amount probably couldn’t generate enough electricity for Australia for two years.”

When I heard that there was helium-3 on the moon, I quickly did some research and some quick maths. There are about 15 tonnes of helium-3 found naturally on Earth, but there are an estimated 1 to 5 million tonnes under the moon’s surface, specifically in an ore called lunar regolith.

Official sources say China needs about 10 tonnes of helium-3 to power the country for a year. My quick calculations are based on China needing 15- 20 tonnes realistically, considering we are not likely to get 100 per cent efficiency. We’ll probably need 150 to 200 tonnes a year to power the entire planet. If it is true about the volume available on the moon, there should be enough there for at least 5,000 to 25,000 years.

No wonder there is a rush to get back on the moon. It is not going to happen overnight, of course. It is predicted a prototype fusion power plant using helium-3 won’t be in operation until 2050 at the earliest, and it will take time for lunar-mined helium-3 to be viable – but it may be worth the wait.

The whole story really gives me hope for mankind. It tells me that there are people in government that have a long-term vision for our planet’s future. It also instils hope that one day, living, working and exploring space will be viable options, when energy is plentiful and cheap. I hope I live long enough to see the return of Halley’s Comet and the mining of the moon.

Hong Kong Night Light Pollution Under The Spotlight

James Pomfret – Reuters | Wed Oct 22, 2008

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong may be known as the Pearl of the Orient for its bright-light, big-city allure, but the ubiquitous practice of keeping neon signs and buildings blazing all night has come under growing fire from green groups.

One of the world’s most densely built-up and populated metropolises, Hong Kong is also one of the most brightly lit.

From bustling streets bathed in an array of neon signs to gargantuan spotlight-strewn advertising hoardings to massed light-specked skyscrapers twinkling off the waters of Victoria harbor at night, the glow over the sleepless city makes it difficult to glimpse stars in the night sky.

In an era of growing green consciousness and global warming fears, environmentalists are increasingly critical of this ostentatious display, calling it as unnecessary and wasteful.

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

While Hong Kong doesn’t have compulsory measures for lights out, 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.

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


A massive neon sign advertising luxury brand Prada was found to be one of the worst offenders in an online poll, spilling intense white light onto a near-deserted Central street until till 5 a.m. every day.

“This is flamboyant wastage and creates light pollution,” one respondent was quoted as saying.

A spokesperson for Prada in Hong Kong said it had noted the concern, was “actively seeking a solution and we will reduce the lighting,” she added without giving specifics.

In an initiative named “Dim It Please,” 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.

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

Light pollution however, is by no means unique to Hong Kong.

NASA photographs of global “artificial night sky brightness” 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.

Global experts say 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.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang seems to be seeing the light.

In his annual policy address last week he said the government would “assess the problem of energy wastage of external lighting and study the feasibility of tackling the problem through legislation.”

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by David Fox)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved.

Report Warns Of Greenhouse Gas Leap

Chris Buckley – Reuters | October 22, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s greenhouse gas pollution could double or more in two decades says a new Chinese state think-tank study that casts stark light on the industrial giant’s role in stoking global warming.

Beijing has not released recent official data on greenhouse gas from the nation’s fast-growing use of coal, oil and gas. Researchers abroad estimate that China’s carbon dioxide emissions now easily outstrip that of the United States, long the biggest emitter.

But in a break with official reticence, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other major state-run institutes have concluded that, without dramatic counter-steps, their nation’s emissions will tower over all others’ much sooner than an earlier government forecast.

The projected leap in emissions underscores the pressures that China will face in looming climate change negotiations, and the immense challenges it would face in meeting any commitments.

By 2020, China’s burning of fossil fuels could emit carbon dioxide equal in mass to 2.5 billion metric tonnes of pure carbon and up to 2.9 billion tonnes, depending on varying scenarios for development and technology. By 2030, those emissions may reach 3.1 billion tonnes and up to 4.0 billion tonnes.

That compares with global carbon emissions of about 8.5 billion tonnes in 2007. Emissions are also often estimated in tonnes of Co2, which weighs 3.67 times as much as carbon alone.

The report does not give its own estimate of China’s current Co2 emissions, but cites data from a U.S. Department of Energy institute that put them at 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon in 2004.

The U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated that the United States emitted about 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon in 2007, compared to China’s 1.8 billion tonnes.

The “China Energy Report” for 2008 warns of drastic risks from inaction in the face of this projected growth, and yet also says economic development must not be hobbled.

“No matter how historical responsibility is defined, our country’s development path cannot repeat the unconstrained emissions of developed countries’ energy use,” states the Chinese-language report, which recently went on public sale without fanfare.

“Therefore, we must soon prepare and plan ahead to implement emissions reduction concepts and measures in a long-term and stable energy development strategy.”

The main author, Wei Yiming, has participated in a U.N. scientific panel to assess global warming. He was not immediately available for comment on the findings and why they appeared now.


The study may add to contention over China’s response to global warming at a time of accelerating international negotiations. Beijing will be at the heart of efforts to forge a treaty next year to succeed the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.

The European Union this week said developing countries should accept a 15-30 percent cut in their greenhouse gas emissions from “business-as-usual” levels.

But under the Protocol, a U.N.-led pact, poor nations do not assume targets to cap emissions. And Washington has refused to ratify Kyoto partly because it says the treaty is ineffective without Beijing’s acceptance of such mandatory caps.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap solar radiation, heating the atmosphere and threatening to stoke worsening drought, disrupted rainfall and more wild weather.

But China points out that per capita emissions of its 1.3 billion people are much lower than rich countries’ and says the developed countries bear overwhelming responsibility for the dangerous accumulation of greenhouse gases.

The new study backs that argument.

Beijing officials have also often said they will not sacrifice hard-won economic development to greenhouse gas caps.

For China, “relative to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, economic development is even more important,” the study says.

Switch Off Plea

SCMP | Updated on Oct 22, 2008

Light pollution is becoming an increasingly serious problem in Hong Kong.

In the city it is difficult to see the night sky clearly, because of the powerful neon lights and even lights in flats. We keep talking about reducing air and waste pollution, but seldom focus on light pollution.

I do not think passing laws will help. What the government should be doing is trying to make the public more aware of the problem. Lights that are not needed should be switched off. We all must learn to reduce our use of lighting. It is really a matter of changing people’s habits.

Yeung Shuk-wai, Kwai Chung

Green Group To Call For Prada Boycott Over Bright Signboards

From Monsters and By DPA – Oct 20, 2008

Hong Kong – A green group will call for a consumer boycott against Prada if the luxury fashion chain fails to dim its illuminated sign boards, a media report said Monday.

Friends of the Earth said the sign board at Prada’s flagship store in the central business district was needlessly illuminated from dusk until dawn, the South China Morning Post reported.

The group’s activists in other cities found that Prada’s Beijing store was lit up until at least 4am, while stores in Singapore and Taipei showed more restraint but the signs were still illuminated until 2:30 am.

Hahn Chu, Friends of the Earth’s environmental affairs manager, said Prada showed ‘no taste at all in this unrestrained quest for brightness. The consequences are a waste of energy and an unnecessary emission of greenhouse gases. If Prada does not stop the light pollution, we will appeal to consumers to boycott it.’

Chu added that a letter has been sent to Prada asking the company to turn off the signs at a reasonable time.

He said: ‘We have also written to two Beijing-based green groups to ask them to follow up the issue there.’

A Prada spokeswoman said the company was considering its options for the Hong Kong shop. ‘The exterior lighting is part of our architecture design and we are reviewing options to reduce the lights,’ she said.

One Billion City Dwellers Forecast

Staff Reporter – SCMP | Updated on Oct 20, 2008

The mainland’s urban population could reach almost 1 billion in the coming years, the president of the International Institute for Urban Development said in Beijing yesterday.

Lian Yuming told a forum that not only would China witness rapid growth of its urban population, but the widening wealth gap would also likely intensify in the coming decades.

He predicted that more rural people would move into cities and the urban population would increase to 915 million by 2025.

China would also have many more mega-cities – cities with more than 10 million residents – including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin , Wuhan , Chongqing and Chengdu .

These cities, Professor Lian said, would face serious problems such as traffic congestion, resource shortages and pollution.

The influence of city clusters – the three key ones being the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area – would rise further, and they could play a commanding role in the national economy and development.

A transient population would continue to be the driving force behind the rapid growth of mainland cities, Professor Lian said. He estimated that the urban population would increase by 350 million by 2025 with the transient population – mainly migrant workers and jobseekers from the countryside – accounting for 240 million.

Professor Lian, who also teaches at the Communist Party School, said the middle class would continue to be the dominant force in cities, and their emergence would be a key factor behind the rise of civic society and democracy.

In terms of infrastructure, Professor Lian said air transport would likely become the key mode of transport and the number of airports would reach 244 by 2020.

But he warned that government needed to pay attention to the country’s widening wealth gap.

Green Group Takes Dim View Of Prada’s Bright Signboards

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP | Updated on Oct 20, 2008

Consumers will be urged to boycott upmarket fashion chain Prada if it refuses to dim its illuminated signboard in Central, a green group has warned.

The warning came as Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen last week said the government would study the need for legislation to control light pollution.

Friends of the Earth said the board at Prada’s flagship store at Alexandra House was unnecessarily lit from dusk until dawn.

While many of its neighbours kept their signboard lights on until early morning, Prada’s exterior lighting was the most extravagant, a survey by the group found.

Assisted by overseas activists, the group also found Prada’s Beijing store was lit up until at least 4am, while its counterparts in Singapore and Taipei showed more restraint by switching their much less extravagant lighting off no later than 2.30am.

A letter has been sent to Prada in Hong Kong asking it to rectify the situation, said Hahn Chu Hon-keung, Friends of the Earth’s environmental affairs manager.

“The brand shops show no taste at all in this unrestrained quest for brightness. The consequences are a waste of energy and an unnecessary emission of greenhouse gases,” he said. “If Prada does not stop the light pollution, we will appeal to consumers to boycott it.

“We have also written to two Beijing-based green groups to ask them to follow up the issue there.”

A spokeswoman for Prada in Hong Kong said it was looking at the issue to see if a solution could be found. “The exterior lighting is part of our architecture design and we are reviewing options to reduce the lights,” she said, without saying why the lights could not be switched off earlier.

In a poll by the group, Prada’s exterior lighting was voted the second-most-ridiculous in the city, beaten only by the advertising boards on Windsor House, Causeway Bay.

Commission Launches £360m Hydrogen Fuel Programme

New Energy Focus – 17-10-08

The European Commission has launched a new public-private initiative offering extra support for research and development in hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

The six-year Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative will receive the equivalent of £360 million funding, to be matched with private sector funds.

It will fund research into technologies the Commission said was often “so complex that no single company or public research institution can perform it alone”.

Launching the initiative in Brussels this week, the Commission said hydrogen as a transport fuel had advantages over both biofuels and electricity

Launching the initiative in Brussels on Tuesday, the Commission claimed it would cut the time it will take for hydrogen and fuel cells technology to reach a wider market by up to five years. Regarding potential for these technologies to power vehicles, it added that the research could lead to mass-production by 2015 to 2020.

The EU Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potocnik, said: “By investing in such a results-oriented scientific project, we are putting our money where our mouth is: the development of new energy technologies is crucial if we are to meet EU objectives to address climate change and energy challenges.”

The industry group taking part in the initiative includes motor manufacturers Fiat, PSA and Volvo and oil firms Total and Shell. European universities will also be working within the initiative.

The Commission hopes to lead the development of hydrogen and fuel cell power ahead of global competitors like the US, Japan or China. As well as funding research, it said the Joint Initiative would help raise confidence levels among investors and help industry draw up long-term investment plans.

It said hydrogen power should be seen as an alternative to electric vehicles and biofuels, and that hydrogen had an advantage over electricity for powering vehicles because of it could be more easily stored.

A first call for proposals for an initial funding round of £22 million this month targets research in refuelling infrastructure, hydrogen production, storage and distribution and also stationary power generation and CHP projects.

The Chairman of the Governing Board of the Joint Undertaking, Gijs van Breda Vriesman, said: “The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative is the best possible vehicle to accelerate the development of technologies and bring the commercialisation of hydrogen and fuel cells forward. The JTI provides us with the unique opportunity to implement our plans on a large European scale.”