Comprehensive measures to clean up air
I refer to the letter by Richard Fielding ('Lack of will to fight pollution', December 19).
The government is determined to improve Hong Kong's air quality. On the home front, we have implemented comprehensive measures to control our emissions at source. We have capped the emissions of the power plants and required the use of ultra-low-sulfur diesel across all industrial and commercial processes. We are controlling products that contain volatile organic compounds in a manner similar to California. Our control on vehicular fuel and emission standards is on a par with the most stringent European requirements. To address the regional smog issue, we are working with the Guangdong provincial government to reduce the emissions of four key air pollutants in the region by 20 per cent to 55 per cent by 2010.
We are reviewing our air quality objectives taking into account the latest international developments including the air quality guidelines published by the World Health Organisation.
Professor Fielding raised concern about the relationship between air pollutant concentrations and the air pollution index (API). Like many other overseas API systems, our API is computed by - converting the concentrations of various pollutants over different averaging times ranging from one hour to 24 hours into sub-indices by comparing the concentrations with the respective one hour to 24-hour air quality objectives; and, taking the highest of the sub-indices as the API for a station at that hour.
The air quality objectives for respirable suspended particulates (RSP) are based on an averaging time of 24 hours instead of one hour, due to the lack of scientific evidence with respect to the exposure-response relationship for RSP over a period as short as one hour. Hence the API for RSP is computed based on moving 24-hour average concentrations instead of one-hour concentrations.
The API is derived from the actual pollutant concentrations and therefore bears direct relationship with the state of air quality. On December 15, the day mentioned by Professor Fielding, the API for the general stations was on the upper side of the high band, and the roadside API was up to 104 at the Central roadside station in the afternoon. Both readings indicated that the pollution level on that day was considered high or very high.
To make the API more useful to the public we have engaged a team of leading academics from local universities to review our API system and draw up its recommendations for improvement. The review will be completed within 2009.
Dave Ho, principal environmental protection officer, Environmental Protection Department
Community spirit needed
It is not uncommon to read a news report about someone committing suicide and it is clear, with the economic crisis, that a number of Hong Kong people will suffer from depression.
Some may argue that people who feel so depressed they want to take their own lives, should do something about it, such as phoning a help hotline and seeking counselling.
However, some people in trouble feel such despair that they cannot even think about such a practical measure.
I do think these hotlines can help. But as members of the community we can do our bit, by being good neighbours.
It may seem strange in a city like Hong Kong, but I would like to see more citizens talking to their neighbours and getting to know them. We may not be able to offer the professional help of counsellors. But I do wish Hongkongers would change their attitude a bit. We should all be doing more to foster a community spirit and getting to know your neighbour is one way of doing that.
It may seem like a trivial act, but such acts can create a more harmonious society.
Suthida Chan, Tsing Yi
Fearing more of the same
The constant calls for change coming from Barack Obama during the US presidential election campaign seem to have undergone a change of their own. Now, what we seem to be hearing from the president-elect is that there will be no change in US foreign policy.
That might sound admirably firm, but it also looks suspiciously like a surrender to the neocons and the arms industry - business as usual. It was precisely the belligerent foreign policy pursued by the Bush administration that upset the citizens of the wider world so much and made it so universally unpopular, even at home.
What exactly would the difference be between a bellicose Bush presidency and a bellicose Obama presidency?
Dave Diss, Glengowrie, South Australia
Why reading is on the wane
The decline of reading deplored by Philip Yeung ('Bad teachers turn English into a test of endurance', December 23), cannot all be attributed to teachers or schools.
There has been a decline in reading throughout market democracies. [Academic] David Mindich reports that young people are not getting the news from the internet or TV either. He found that only 11 per cent of young people go to the internet for news. The average age of those watching CNN is 60.
Mr Mindich points to the work of Harvard [academic] Robert Putnam who argues that the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social, associational and political life since the 1960s, with serious negative consequences for democracy.
Fewer people are joining groups and clubs, including churches, Boy Scouts, parent-teacher associations, Kiwanis, or Toastmasters. Fewer are eating meals with their families. All these groups used to prepare members for political office and civic engagement.
Mr Putnam shows the decline of civic engagement also in France and Britain. The advance of consumerism in market democracies may be the reason why people turn from the civic engagement required for democracy.
Mr Yeung rightly notes that piling on more external motivation such as exams will do little to stimulate youngsters to read. Reading is a social experience. Children will learn to read in communities where there are abundant materials written at their levels and targeted at their interests.
They will also read more in communities that enjoy a high degree of political and civic engagement. What's good for democracy is good for reading.
William DuBay, Ap Lei Chau
Drug tests not the solution
Some people have argued that compulsory tests should be introduced in schools for students suspected of taking illicit drugs. It is felt this is one way to curb the drug-taking culture among teenagers.
I have doubts about whether or not this policy would be effective. Those who support testing say it can act as a deterrent for students tempted to take drugs.
However, we have to consider the rights of students and the argument that such a test is an invasion of your privacy.
I think it would be better for schools to collaborate with non-governmental organisations to launch educational campaigns. We can make students aware of the dangers of taking drugs and help drug abusers with their problems and encourage them to adopt a more positive approach towards their lives.
Adam Liu, Fanling