There was a time when our government struggled to tackle budget deficits during financial crises. It imposed both massive public spending cuts and unpopular tax increases. Unpopular as these measures were, they were necessary to restore the city's fiscal health and pave the way for sustainable development.
The same concept applies to our environment. When we take away more than the earth can sustain, we run into a so-called ecological deficit. Hong Kong, being such a wasteful city, not surprisingly has outstripped many other places on this front. According to conservation groups WWF and Global Footprint Network, the city's deficit is the second worst in Asia, and ranked ninth among 150 countries.
That Hong Kong and Singapore are the worst in this part of the world is understandable. The study takes into account the demand and supply of resources such as crops, seafood and forest products in a place, along with its carbon emission. With millions of inhabitants but with limited land and natural resources, both places have no choice but to import and consume more than they produce. Deficits are inevitable.
However, that is no excuse for a wasteful lifestyle. According to a survey in the report, Hongkongers buy one to five clothing items a month, but they throw away on average six pieces a year. Together with other municipal waste, this contributes to the 9,100 tonnes of trash dumped into our near-saturated landfills every day.
Our wastefulness is not just limited to rubbish. Signboards and shops brightly lit overnight, freezing cold shopping malls, the list goes on. As green groups have warned, if everyone in the world lived like Hongkongers, we would need nearly three planet earths to satisfy our needs.
But there is only one earth. And unlike budget deficits, which can be tackled through income and spending adjustments, new sustainable resources are difficult to come by. That makes cutting down consumption all the more important in the crusade to reduce our ecological deficit.
Hong Kong's advanced economy and limited resources mean it may be unable to turn from a debtor into a creditor. But just like digging into one's bank savings, recklessly spending today is indeed creating an overdraft for tomorrow. As a responsible global citizen, we can do a lot more to help save the planet. A less wasteful lifestyle is a good way to begin.