Studying in this field is the first step on a recognised career path, although one that is still in its infancy in major industries GLOBAL WARMING, air pollution, extreme weather and a multitude of other environmental issues have gone from loony conspiracies to front page news over the past few years. From deadly late-season typhoons in the Philippines and smothering smoke clouds caused by land-clearing fires in Indonesia, to rising temperatures, disappearing glaciers, melting polar ice caps and multi-year droughts, the stories are becoming commonplace. They have also prompted calls from environmental groups, NGOs, politicians, health experts and affected communities for the introduction of tough measures to counter the climate changes. 'Research by WWF and others has shown that the health of our planet is getting worse every year, and at an increasing rate,' said Andy Cornish, director of conservation for the global group in Hong Kong. 'While some people in business still cling to the old-fashioned view that the state of the environment does not have an impact on them, few in Hong Kong would agree with that now our air quality is so bad.' The various causes were given a boost this year by the surprise box office hit, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore 's apocalyptic warning about the threat of global warming. On the website for the documentary, the former US vice-president warns that 'humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb'. 'If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.' Despite the film's success around the world and greater public awareness, conservation issues are still at odds with the policies of some governments, industries and big business. But studying in this field is an acceptable first step on a recognised career path, although one that is still in its infancy in major industries. An increase in international academic appointments suggest that environmental science is now a mainstream subject. Jonathan Aitchison, head of the department of earth sciences at the University of Hong Kong, noted recently that 24 new jobs teaching global climate change had been advertised at Kiel University in Germany and the Imperial College in London. 'The reason is it's such a hot topic at the moment,' Professor Aitchison said. 'The scientists have known for some time; now the rest of the community realises the situation. We're now trying to understand it.' Environmental science is also on the curriculum of major universities around the world, including those in Hong Kong, although there are still relatively few career opportunities here. Professor Aitchison said the subject was 'now being taken seriously because it's become a political issue'. 'There is a shortage of qualified people already as not many people have studied it,' he said. 'The long-term future is very bright for the industry in producing graduates because of global warming, if it's the phenomenon we all think it is, because of the consequences.' He said this year the number of school leavers applying for science courses had tripled. 'Earth science has a large increase of students because of the tsunami and the Al Gore movie,' Professor Aitchison said. 'There is a lot more interest in how the Earth works at the moment.' Extra government funding for academic research had been provided to universities elsewhere but not in Hong Kong yet, he said. In November, Civic Exchange released a report titled 'The impacts of climate change in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta' that also called for more funding as 'there is an urgent need for more in-depth research' into this subject. Co-author Christine Loh Kung-wai says in the preface that climate change was added to the non-profit organisation's research agenda some time ago as 'it is a cross-cutting issue that will have substantial impact, not only on Hong Kong but on the entire Pearl River Delta'. 'What we have learnt reinforces our conviction that this is an urgent challenge on an unprecedented scale, and one that will have an impact on all of us,' Ms Loh said. 'This paper represents our first attempt to pull together the relevant materials, with the aim of providing a broad-brush of how climate change may affect Hong Kong, Macau and the Pearl River Delta.' Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has been criticised for his lacklustre proposals for tackling Hong Kong's pollution, but some sections of his government are more strident in their approach. Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokesman Donald Lam Ping-kuen said: 'Amid rapid socio-economic changes and strong demand for various land uses, it is important for Hong Kong to strike the balance between development and protecting our environment.'