James Graham, convenor of the Hong Kong Business Coalition on the Environment, must be regretting remarks he made last week about Hong Kong people fleeing our appalling air. He used ill-chosen and injudicious words. Inadvertently, he angered many who would normally be supportive of his cause. Mr Graham is committed to trying to do something about the filthy air we breathe; month by month it seems to get inexorably worse. He managed to rile many normally stalwart environmentalists by his comment that it was 'unacceptable for people to leave Hong Kong because the air is bad'. Oh, yes? Unacceptable to whom? Frequent studies have shown that overseas executive recruits are increasingly showing reluctance to move here; a prime reason is the increasingly notorious quality of the air we breathe. To parents with asthmatic children, it is obviously good sense to move to a healthy environment. Yet Mr Graham seems to hint that leaving Hong Kong for such reasons is akin to treason. This is a word that tripped lightly off the tongue of many Hongkongers back in 1984, when Jardine Matheson, for whom Mr Graham works, moved its corporate headquarters to Bermuda. It seems switching domiciles for reasons of business health is perfectly acceptable; fleeing an ecological nightmare for the sake of your family's health is not. At least this is what his words imply. Mr Graham, a relaxed Scottish engineer who first lived in Hong Kong 22 years ago, repeats his contention that people who over past decades have reaped the vast economic and social benefits of Hong Kong should now help bear the burden to clear it up. His targets are business communities on both sides of the border and government authorities. With action by the entire Pearl River Delta, an impact could be made within a decade. To me, the chief executive of Jardine Engineering seems a stupendously happy optimist. There is no sign that the many thousands of small and medium-sized factories in the delta are able, let along ready and willing, to cut deadly emissions. His rosy viewpoint is based on a plan to get thousands of factory owners and managers in the Pearl River Delta to sign agreements on a voluntary basis that will limit their contribution to the airborne filth. I wish Mr Graham the best of luck. He will need it. I cynically and sadly predict that his plea to Pearl River Delta factory owners, most of them Hong Kong companies, will come to naught. Does he expect manufacturers to install expensive equipment and cease cheap operating methods because of a request from an unofficial Hong Kong business association? I certainly don't. Neither do hard-headed entrepreneurs or idealistic ecologists. Mr Graham remains adamant that the problem can be fixed. This is because members of his organisation 'know what the problems are and how to deal with them'. True, but how do you enforce the necessary actions on this side of the border - let alone in Guangdong? What myself and many others found grating about Mr Graham's musings on the environment were comments about people who are gravely concerned about the health of their families. There is no doubt that air pollution is a health hazard in Hong Kong. It kills ailing people. It slices years of productive life off fit people. It deprives us of full enjoyment of life. Yet Mr Graham can proclaim: 'We have no time for people who say the air is so bad and I've got to leave. Running away is not going to solve the problem. This is not an acceptable or responsible way to look at it. We have enjoyed the benefits and when there are problems, we've got to fix them.' Ironically, the truth of Mr Graham's claims for a possible sparkling future have been amply proved. When he made his first statement on May 1, the sky was grey. The usual ominous choking pall blanketing Hong Kong had people coughing and rubbing teary eyes. But when I spoke to him last Monday, he looked out of his office window at pristine clouds floating across an azure sky, distant hills a gleaming green. The factories of Guangdong were shut for the 'golden week' holiday. In a perfect world, where authorities and manufacturers on both sides of the border followed religiously the strictures of Mr Graham and his business coalition, this is how our weather could be most of the time. I advise you not to hold your breath awaiting breathable air. The factories are about to go back into production and the pall will soon be back, worse than ever.