Letters to the Editor, July 31, 2015

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 3:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 3:29pm

No surprise HK active hub for smugglers

Your report ("Record haul of 'red gold' wood", July 25) provides a pertinent example of government's inability to counter Hong Kong's key role in the planet's third most lucrative illegal trade: endangered plants and animals.

A record 38 tonnes of endangered red sandalwood destined for China has already been confiscated this year, but the Customs and Excise Department claims there is no evidence Hong Kong has become a transit point for smuggling endangered species. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department states that, despite 58 tonnes being seized in 2005, no sandalwood was discovered in 2006, 2009 or 2010.

Customs inspects a tiny fraction of cargo that lands or is in transit through Hong Kong. Absence of discovery is not evidence of absence. Moreover, where there is no official recognition of a problem, there is no attempt to address it.

The same problem is reflected in the paltry level of sentences available at court for those few offenders who actually get caught and prosecuted.

The value of the confiscated sandalwood in your report was estimated at HK$152 million (HK$4,000 per kilo) on the mainland black market. The maximum fine that can be imposed for trading in endangered species is HK$500,000. No wonder Hong Kong is such an active hub for smugglers.

I hope the new director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will take a more evidence-based approach to cleaning up Hong Kong's dirty, and not so little, open secret.

Amanda S. Whitfort, associate professor, faculty of law, University of Hong Kong

End demand for ivory by not buying it

Some craftsmen may create beautiful works from ivory, but poaching is a bloody and violent business.

Unfortunately, customers do not want to know that the carving they have purchased is a result of cold-blooded killing of rhinos or elephants. And now the poaching is so widespread that some species are close to extinction.

The habitats of these animals are also under threat and being destroyed.

The best way to prevent poaching is simply to refuse to buy any animal products, such as carvings of ivory, or animal parts used for supposed medicinal purposes.

In the latter case, there are adequate substitutes that do not necessitate the killing of any animals.

Also, we should show our support for those international organisations that are fighting to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats.

Lam Ming-yeung, Yuen Long

Poachers' incentive is financial

We must stop giving the poachers a reason to continue killing animals.

We can do this by not buying products made from the raw materials, such as elephant tusks, products like ivory-carved chopsticks.

This may not be enough, but if the demand drops from consumers, there is less of an incentive to continue with the slaughter.

Peter Lau, Shenzhen

Plastic bag levy only the first step

I refer to Tory Liang's letter ("Plastic Bag tax doesn't solve waste problem", July 10).

You see piles of plastic bags and bottles on our beaches.

They are an eyesore for locals and visitors. These places should be serene locations where people can enjoy the sea view and relax. This is a serious environmental issue that should concern all citizens.

I agree that the plastic bag levy has only a limited effect in terms of deterrence in trying to reduce the use of plastic bags. However, there are countries in the EU that have had a strict levy in place for years.

It is higher than 50 cents, and it has led to higher levels of awareness among citizens about the need to use less plastic.

I agree that the root cause of the problem is a lack of awareness among Hong Kong citizens. However, they have been too reliant on plastic for so long that you cannot change such habits overnight. Through education in schools, we can reach the younger generations, but they are not the ones usually paying for the bags, so this will not deal with the problem in the short term.

We need to tackle the problem at the source so that Hongkongers get used to the principles of reusing and recycling plastic.

We should follow the example set by those countries that put recycle bins everywhere. Their presence in so many parts of the city will keep reminding people of the need to recycle.

Plastic bottles can be given a new lease of life. In some poor countries they have been used for street lighting.

We have to embrace the philosophy of using waste in such a way that it can bring benefits to the community.

Also, there are greener substitutes that can be considered such as hemp plastic, which is biodegradable material, and so it can decompose. This makes it more environmentally friendly.

There are also more creative ways of reducing waste, for example, some fast-food stores in Japan use edible tableware made of seaweed, instead of plastic. For example, they have seaweed cups.

In Hong Kong we should look into the feasibility of these eco-friendly ideas.

We certainly can no longer turn a blind eye to the huge volume of plastic waste generated in this city.

Cheryl Leung Li-ling, San Po Kong

Youngsters can learn to be eco-friendly

I think there are still a lot of Hong Kong teenagers who do not appreciate the importance of global warming.

They have yet to realise that if we do not stop polluting the earth, sustainable development will not be possible.

While youngsters living here might think they are powerless to change this, they need to realise that all Hongkongers can do their bit by having a more environmentally friendly attitude. Where possible people should take public transport rather than private cars to reduce levels of roadside pollution.

When we go shopping, we should take reusable rather than plastic bags. This will reduce pollution as fewer plastic bags will end up in our landfills.

The sooner we all take action, the sooner the problems can be fixed.

Jason Lau, Tseung Kwan O

Online attacks are not good for our society

Pictures have been circulated on the internet showing youngsters occupying priority seats on public transport, and this has generated a fierce debate online.

Some people have jumped to conclusions and formed firm opinions, but we cannot judge just based on these pictures. We should try to see it from the point of view of these youngsters.

Imagine a young man on the MTR who is exhausted and is just trying to rest during the long commute home. Of course, I appreciate that elderly people who are unsteady on their feet should be given these seats. The debate over this issue online has proved to me that there is a lack of empathy in our society.

There would be fewer confrontations and quarrels in our society if there was greater empathy. People need to put themselves in someone else's shoes. This is the best way to deal with any potential dispute.

If people on public transport tried to understand the needs of fellow passengers, the dispute over priority seats would not have erupted.

Also, people who take such pictures with their smartphones should think about the consequences of their actions. If someone is identified and publicly criticised, this can do them harm.

These netizens really have an obligation to think before they act so that they do not do any harm to people.

As I said, we should seek to maintain harmony in our society, and empathy is the key to achieving that.

Winfred Wong, Kwai Chung 

Tourists from China polite and friendly

It is high time someone reported on the civilised and gracious behaviour displayed by the majority of tourists from China.

I am an American-Australian living in Hong Kong but was recently on vacation in Canada.

There were thousands of fellow voyagers from different countries.

But instead of the horror headlines of rude travellers, we were delighted with the polite and friendly nature of all the tourists we saw and met from China.

On day we spoke with a trio from Shanghai - two sisters and a brother, all middle-aged.

They were some of the many Chinese taking in the sites near Lake Louise, Alberta.

Bad behaviour does make headlines. However, people should not think all Chinese are bad tourists.

Of the three or four dozen we met on that day in Alberta, everyone was polite, civilised, respectful and fun to be with.

Travellers from China make a great impression in the countries they visit. I hope they all enjoy their holidays.

Walter Jennings, Clear Water Bay