Second-Law Blowback Scorching Hong Kong

by Val Germann

China’s booming ecomomy has meant an economic revival for Hong Kong, a city much damaged by the Asian implosion of the late 1990s. Today, by almost any measure, things are looking up for the former British colony. But “by almost any measure” is not quite the same thing as “by ANY measure,” is it? No, it is not, and Hong Kong has some serious doubts about its long-term future, as is clearly shown by the quote below, from the Asia Times Online website:

According to study released this month, the city’s choking air quality is costing Hong Kong 1,600 lives and nearly US$258 million in health-care costs and lost productivity each year. The study – carried out by a team of experts from the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Chinese University and think-tank Civic Exchange – found that Hong Kong’s air pollutants exceeded World Health Organization standards by 200%.

What is the source for all this bad air? Well, some of it is due to Hong Kong’s truck and auto fleet, and some by other city pollution sources. But the REAL problem lies elsewhere:

Ironically, the most urgent threat to Hong Kong’s competitiveness – the city’s increasingly foul air – is intimately tied to the phenomenal growth on the mainland, particularly in the Pearl River Delta in neighboring Guangdong province. This is where more than 70,000 largely unregulated Hong Kong-invested factories belch poisonous pollutants into the air on a daily basis.

Yes, it’s true, the very industries that have made possible Hong Kong’s recovery are in the process of suffocating it in the industry-created atmosphere. It’s a perfect demonstration of the Second Law at work, with a vengeance. Hong Kong has a BIG problem with its air quality, now down among the worst in the world.

Speaking recently for the International Business Chamber, which represents overseas chambers of commerce in the city, Jens-Erik Olsen expressed the business community’s recruiting fears, which are directly related to Hong Kong’s unhealthy environment. “We are going to tell the government that we [Hong Kong] are no longer attractive to professionals,” he said, “because they do not want their children to live in Hong Kong.”

Of course, there’s an easy answer to this: Don’t bring your children to the city! That will work. But will that fix some of the other problems the bad air is bringing, problems so severe that an international business organization is calling for Hong Kong to be classed as a hardship post!

The survey showed concern about food scares, infectious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and bird flu, as well as worries about the typhoon season that buffets the city every year. But it was definitely Hong Kong’s polluted skies that tipped the scales toward “hardship”.

Yes, indeed, there truly IS no free lunch, nor “free economic development,” on this Second-Law planet.

Read the entire article here.

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About Val

I am a long-time teacher of science and astronomy with a strong interest in resource conservation and the environment.
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