We must do more to save our planet

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2007, 12:00am

Disregard for the environment is not a matter to be taken lightly, as the residents of the Jiangsu provincial city of Wuxi can attest. Algal growths in the main water source, Tai Lake, have reduced quality to the point that the city of 5 million people now has to rely on bottled water for drinking and bathing.

There can be no more pertinent example of what awaits communities which take what they have for granted. Without due regard for what nature provides, what we have today can just as easily be taken away tomorrow, no matter whether it is Wuxi or Hong Kong.

Wuxi's authorities blame the algae on high temperatures and a lack of rainfall, which they say has caused the lake's level to fall to its lowest in 50 years, making the water undrinkable and smelly. But there are other factors likely, such as pollution, overfishing and reclamation of the lake to create more land.

Whatever the reason, the dilemma residents face is hitting home hard: bottled water prices are rapidly rising. Water is, after all, the most vital resource to sustain life and when it is in short supply, hardship results.

Wuxi's residents may not be entirely to blame, either. The world over, weather patterns are changing as a result of emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, which are causing temperatures to rise.

For China, climate change means worsening drought in the northwest, melting ice and less snow in Tibet - and this year, predicted heavy rain that will result in flooding in the Yangtze River for the first time in nine years. Storms are increasing in intensity, the polar ice caps are melting, causing sea levels to rise, and deserts are spreading.

The challenges were central to the just-completed International Conference on Climate Change, which Hong Kong hosted. Throughout, the message was plain: everyone, in developed and developing countries alike, has to do their part to cut the pollutants that are causing temperatures to rise.

In the closing address yesterday, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen rightly said achieving a more sustainable pattern of development had to be the goal. Hong Kong, he said, was in the forefront, with among the lowest per capita emissions of pollutants that cause global warming among developed societies. As if to back his claims, the sky throughout the gathering was unusually clear and blue, devoid of the usual grey pall, due to a wind change and daily series of thunderstorms.

Mr Tsang reeled off a list of projects under way, from the wind turbine on Lamma Island to the use of methane as a fuel at landfills. There is no doubt about the worthiness of such schemes. But Hong Kong is not in the forefront of resource sustainability. Our society is highly wasteful and Hong Kong-owned factories in the Pearl River Delta are greatly contributing to air pollution in the region.

While these are points Mr Tsang neglected to mention, he was accurate in his conclusion to delegates: that every individual can and must play a part to protect the environment for future generations.

The message is one we clearly understand as a result of the poor air quality we experience so frequently. Wuxi's residents are also now coming to terms with it.

But words are meaningless without concerted action. The world over, greater effort is needed to prevent further destruction of a resource we have so badly mistreated - the environment.