Why won't we turn off the lights?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2007, 12:00am

Once upon a time, Hong Kong turned down the lights at night.

Nowadays, closed shops, empty housing blocks and giant advertising signs all have their lights burning bright all night, wasting electricity and contributing to global warming, says an environmental group.

Government figures spell out the size of the problem: between 1997 and 2004, the amount of energy used for lighting grew by 25 per cent, but the city's population rose only 4.3 per cent. In other words, consumption per person of electricity for lighting rose more than a fifth over the period.

A search by Friends of the Earth identified a number of examples of wasteful lighting across the city. They even included outdoor spotlights burning bright during the day.

The government does not seem to be doing anything to regulate the problem.

Last year, seven Central and Western District councillors complained to the government about the billboard illuminated in red on top of the Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan, which they said caused nuisance to nearby residents. Seven government departments - transport, highways, environmental protection, home affairs, lands, buildings and the police - said it was not their problem.

In March, environment minister Sarah Liao Sau-tung said in the Legislative Council that the government had no intention of further regulating outdoor lighting.

The number of complaints to the Environmental Protection Department about spotlights and billboards has risen from none in 2002 to 30 last year.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said that since the closure of Kai Tak airport in 1998, lighting laws that formerly covered much of urban Hong Kong no longer applied since flight safety was no longer at issue. They affect only approaches to Chek Lap Kok airport.

'The competition for glitter stepped up and outshone the stars, creating a nuisance for the city's inhabitants,' Mr Chu said.

He said officials had been indifferent to light pollution and evasive when asked about their obligation to raise awareness of the problem.

Lin Hsien-te, professor of architecture at Taiwan National Cheng Kung University, has said the city's illuminations are abusive.

'The light show which the city is so proud of is a waste of energy,' he wrote last year of the Symphony of Lights displays in the harbour.

Mr Chu said authorities should set rules for outdoor illumination.

'Brighter is not necessarily better,' the campaigner said. 'If the problem continues, there will be no more starry sky in Hong Kong.'

Lighting usage in HK

1997 20,156 terajoules

2004 25,276 tera joules

up 25%

Source: Friends of the Earth