TODAY IS EARTH DAY. On a day when we're encouraged to reflect on exactly how brilliantly we've managed to mess up the planet, the fact that the event has reached the age of 35 is a tragedy in itself. The Earth is suffering, with Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region one of its black spots: a billowing chimney of self-interest, with politicians intent on turning anything green, watery or vaguely natural into concrete, and Green groups seemingly impotent. Apathy doesn't help. Even some on Lamma Island, for instance, traditionally the home of Hong Kong's transient environmentalists, initially complained about the idea of having a wind turbine because it was to be placed on their home turf. In short, adults have failed the planet. Future generations will be forced to deal with the mess that's still being made today. So, what do they think? SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School is just a block from the flyovers of Happy Valley. The smog-bound proximity of CNEC Lee I Yao Memorial Secondary School to the Kwai Chung container ports means students rarely get a decent glimpse of Hong Kong Island - only when the wind picks up to disperse the sickly yellow hue or on those rare days when mainland factories are shut. Students from both schools were unaware of the concept of Earth Day until their teachers mentioned that a reporter was coming to talk to them about it for this article. And yet their generation will have to act on the indecision and inaction of today, with some estimates giving the planet another 20-odd years of maltreatment before it passes the point of no return. A sign on the wall at Tang Shui Kin Secondary, perhaps says it all: Be responsible. You are capable. It is not difficult. Tiffany Wong Ngan-yu, 17 Form 6, SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School 'We talk a lot about being environmentally friendly and what we need to do to help the planet. And then we go to school and use up so many textbooks and eat out of polystyrene lunchboxes that get thrown away. There's a big contradiction. Students are told to protect the environment, but what we actually do is different. Hong Kong only gets upset enough to deal with something after it has suffered, like Sars. When that came, people acted very concerned and suddenly were happy to do a little bit more to help the cause. But with the environment, people aren't prepared to take on responsibility. They want to push the burden onto the government. People here won't take action until something like The Day After Tomorrow happens. When they go on the street for demonstrations they just do it without really thinking about what they're saying. What are people really marching for? People here think earning a living is most important. They won't care about Earth Day. This is a characteristic of Hong Kong people. We need someone to force us to do better, as opposed to doing so ourselves.' Oscar Lee Ka-chun, 13 Form 2, CNEC Lee I Yao Memorial Secondary School 'Earth Day makes you think about the small things that you don't notice. When I think about the air I breathe every day, it's very bad. A friend of mine came from Britain to visit me over Easter. He was here for two weeks and was very sick at the end of his trip because of the air. In the streets it's very bad here - so many cars and buses. When I go running it makes me angry because breathing becomes very hard. We should all use the MTR as much as possible, and people should travel together in cars instead of all driving their own. The government doesn't do enough. The environment is so dirty. But they still want to build more roads on both sides of the harbour. We already have enough roads. Hong Kong isn't big so we don't need to make any more. It only makes it harder to breathe because it will just mean more cars using air-conditioning. I think we need to have more trees and countryside, then we can have less smog.' Steven Yu Chun-kit, 17 Form 6, SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School 'People here are selfish. You can walk around saying so many different slogans about being environmentally friendly, hold up messages and banners, but in reality people don't live that way. At the supermarket people take as many plastic bags as possible, because they're free. How can we become environmentally friendly when we think like that? The government and the companies should charge a certain amount of money for the bags and encourage us to use our own bags for shopping. Of course, that won't be enough, but it's a first step. We need to spend money on education so that people learn to change their ways. If we can educate our new generation then we can change things, but it will take a long time for people to change their minds. Political parties should co-operate more. They always criticise but they never have any better ideas to make solutions - only their best interests. They're too divided to have the good of Hong Kong as their interest.' STEVEN FONG HIU-SANG, 18 Form 4, CNEC Lee I Yao Memorial Secondary School 'Air pollution is the biggest problem affecting our lives here. There are so many old, sick people who can't go outdoors when air pollution is high. We must all do something to help. If we use more public transport, that will be a start. In the summer we could try to find other ways of cooling down, like using swimming pools, instead of using air-conditioners all the time. The environment is something that we have no choice over - we must act now, despite the fact that it's easy to enjoy your life and not think about things. Education is very important. We should tax heavy polluters such as factories. Greenpeace and people like Friends of the Earth only succeed sometimes, but at least they're trying to do something rather than nothing at all. The government doesn't do enough to help.' BANIAN CHAN FAN-HO, 17 Form 4, CNEC Lee I Yao Memorial Secondary School 'It's tough on the days when we can't go outdoors. We might have a day off school at the weekend and want to play outside, but we can't because the pollution is too high, which is terrible. It's dangerous for young people as well as the old and the sick, and there are so many more respiratory diseases these days, it seems, such as asthma. Air pollution affects us because Hong Kong contributes many greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide - but I think we're all to blame. If we don't use as much air-conditioning we can help. It's up to the government and it's up to Hong Kong people to make the effort.' CALVIN CHOI PING-LUN, 17 Form 6, SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School 'The row over smoking in public places says it all about the way people think in Hong Kong - it's about profit, despite the fact that the real cost of pollution is so much higher. Money is the priority, as West Kowloon shows. My ideal design for that would be something green. Recycling and being environmentally friendly is something that people will say to themselves, 'I will do that in the future when I have time', but of course they don't. The power companies - Hong Kong Electric and CLP Power - have monopolies and so there's too much money at stake. They know people need electricity and power, and the government does nothing to push them to raise their environmental standards. And, of course, because we're so close to the factories in China there's nothing we can do about our air - that's when you need the government to really step in. The government needs to show some foresight. They always look at tourism and spend money. But the tourists come here and they can't see across the harbour anyway.' NATALIE CHAN MEI-TING, 17 Form 6, SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School 'Earth Day is about wakening Hong Kong people up to the environment, but to be honest, not many people seem to know about it here, so I don't think it will work. It's hard to find a balance between environment and development here. Take the West Kowloon development - it's a great opportunity for them to create a massive green area in Hong Kong, but they still want to build. I think we should educate school children first and then start from there. It's better to put three-colour rubbish bins for plastic, glass and paper in schools rather than in homes or outside - they get ignored that way, but we need to use these ideas. The government should start doing this directly, everywhere, not just in certain places. It's very difficult and may cost something extra to set up but, in the long term, I think Hong Kong people will agree with that. But people here complain about everything without providing solutions. One day the land-fill sites will all be full and it will be time for us all to move to the moon.' JOYCE LAW YEE-SHAN, 17 Form 6, SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School 'In Hong Kong we usually put commercial things as our first priority. There may be green groups telling us to protect the environment, but that doesn't stop companies looking for profits. And this will probably never change: we are in Hong Kong. I go to Shenzhen frequently and I find that even there, things are improving very quickly. The government has made a lot of effort in terms of environmental protection. Compared with Hong Kong there are more plants and trees in Shenzhen, it seems. The Hong Kong government can learn from Shenzhen. It's not difficult to make our environment more comfortable.' IMEN CHENG KA-YAN, 17 Form 6, CNEC Lee I Yao Memorial Secondary School 'We need to make an effort to work together - not just blame certain people like the power companies, but look at our own lives and make the effort ourselves. Noise pollution is another problem - not just what comes from factories and cars. Human activity, in general, seems to affect the environment. We can see that Victoria Harbour is just getting worse, Hong Kong smells bad. Everyone should share the responsibility for this, while the government should apply taxes to stop this problem. Education is what will save future generations.' JACKY LUI CHUNG-YAN, 17 Form 6, SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School 'In our daily lives we don't have time to care about how many trees there are in Hong Kong, how many plastic bags we use, how to separate our rubbish. We've made ourselves this way. We don't have the standards in place, and that's the most important thing at the moment. China has actually improved a lot. I was in Beijing two months ago. The pollution there is still worse than Hong Kong, but they're improving at a much faster rate than us. The Beijing government has made more of an effort to encourage people to be environmentally friendly. It's easy for the Hong Kong government to talk about it, it's easy for us to ask the government to do something, but it's difficult to change the people. We need to change the way people think. How? If the government improves its image, people will be inspired to do good themselves instead of spending their energy complaining about what the government doesn't do.'