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Government Should Raise Energy-Saving Awareness

Updated on Jul 20, 2008 – SCMP

Neon lights and bright advertising signs are what give tourist districts such as Tsim Sha Tsui their distinct character. Visitors are dazzled by the lights. But understandably, many people who live in these places feel differently about the heat they generate and the light that shines into their homes at night. Light pollution is not comparable to air pollution in terms of the direct health risks it poses to the public. Nevertheless, it is increasingly commanding attention because of the serious nuisance it causes to residents.

It also has a direct link to air pollution and energy wastage. Government figures from last year show that between 1997 and 2004, total energy consumption jumped by 25 per cent even though our population only increased by 4.3 per cent during the period. Now, the government is handing out HK$3,600 to 2.4 million households to subsidise electricity bills. While this provides help to the needy, many families that will benefit are affluent and do not need the money. Furthermore, the exercise will spur people to use more electricity. People will feel freer to turn on lights and keep them on for longer – in short, more energy consumption, more burning of coal from our two power companies and, therefore, more pollution.

Green group Friends of the Earth has been calling attention to the problem of light pollution. This includes taking people on tours along Nathan Road to see for themselves the extent of the problem. This is a valuable public service because there is a need to educate people and raise awareness. With such efforts, there have also been calls for legislation. But the legislative route should only be pursued when there is an overwhelming public interest at stake. It is not clear this is the case. Businesses require signs to attract customers at night, and whether a sign is too bright is usually a subjective judgment. Nathan Road, in any case, would not be what it is without the cacophony of noise and light. The way forward should be for the government to step up campaigns to tell people and businesses not to be wasteful with excessive lights. It certainly has an educational responsibility to encourage the public to conserve energy after deciding to dole out its ill-advised electricity subsidy.

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