Letters to the editor, January 31, 2016

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 January, 2016, 10:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 January, 2016, 10:00am

Cars aren’t the major culprits of air pollution

It is depressing that “Clean Air Network believes demand-led management of private cars is the only effective means to ... lower roadside air pollution in Hong Kong”, as Ms Kwong Sum Yin, the chief executive officer of the organisation, declares in her recent letter (“Restricting car usage is the only effective way to cut air pollution in Hong Kong”, January 27).

Her misguided primary focus on cars is wrong for two reasons. First, it is wildly inaccurate. In 2013, the government produced a detailed analysis of the sources of roadside pollution by nitrogen oxides and PM10. Private cars then made up about 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s vehicles. But they contributed a mere 3 per cent of nitrogen oxide pollution, and 2 per cent of PM10. Goods vehicles contributed 44 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively, of these pollutants.

The dangers from private cars are minuscule, not just in absolute terms, but also in relative terms. A franchised bus produces 618 times more nitrogen oxides than a private car, while a minibus produces 398 times more PM10 than a private car, though being of similar size. In addition, cars run relatively infrequently, while lorries and buses are used continuously. Restricting private cars will have negligible impact on pollution, relative to the impact of better controlling buses and lorries.

The second reason Ms Kwong is wrong is that by attacking the private car owner (though I agree we should use road pricing to reduce congestion), she alienates the middle class while taking the heat off the vested interests that continue to spew poisons into our air and into the lungs of our children. This should not be Clean Air Network’s mission.

Our political leaders should engage this public health issue, and directly attack those who resist cleaning up our air and put private profit before public health.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels

Escalator walkers are in no danger

At 12 minutes past 5pm on January 25, I was able to take part in a live test of escalator safety. The escalator I was travelling on going up from the concourse to the platform at Kwai Fong MTR station stopped suddenly without warning – no buzzers or alarms, it just stopped dead. All the walkers, including myself, had no trouble keeping their balance. Only one person fell over – a standee. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Walking on escalators is not dangerous – even when there a is a sudden stop. The MTR Corporation should stop exhorting passengers to stand only. It is unnecessary, slows down the flow and causes conflict between users.

Colin Bosher, Discovery Bay

Slur meant to discredit students’ cause

I take umbrage at HKU council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung’s comments that some “students acted like [they’re] on drugs” and that they had been manipulated (“Hong Kong University students behaved ‘like they were on drugs’ says Arthur Li”, January 28). Without a doubt, these comments were intended to smear the reputation of the demonstrating students and, in turn, their cause.

Perhaps the University of Hong Kong students are reacting to the erosion of the social contract which lies at the heart of many of Hong Kong’s present problems and the future ones that will likely arise as the city counts down to 2047. That date looms large in the subconsciousness of this politically active generation. In light of that loss of liberty, is a review of the governing body and its structure so outrageous a request?

Perhaps, Li is like a heartless automaton who has been poisoned by the Communist Party, whose goal is seemingly to wring the spirit from this generation.

Many of these press conferences are transparently orchestrated and ineffective. More often than not, such public appearances like the one made by Li and HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson actually rally public support against the academic, administrative and political figures who act like standard bearers for the Chinese government.

As a history teacher, I advise Mr Li to do some revision on the Enlightenment thinkers of the Renaissance, specifically John Locke, and take heed of the ever-rising tension in Hong Kong.

Ryan Culliton, Tseung Kwan O

Sore lack of university places in HK

Each year, Hong Kong turns away thousands of students from its universities. The first challenge for students would be to achieve the qualifications required to attend university: the Diploma of Secondary Education examination.

About 70,000 students sit for the exam each year, and more than 20,000 qualify for college entrance. Yet, Hong Kong’s publicly funded universities can seat only a total of 15,000 students.

This is untenable, particularly in a modern economy. In the 1960s, economist Lionel Robbins, then head of the economics department at the London School of Economics, proposed that university places “should be available to all who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so”. This principle is even more relevant today.

Since 1994, the number of publicly funded degree places in Hong Kong has been frozen at a maximum of 15,000. This allows space for only around 18 per cent of teenagers in Hong Kong, one of the lowest rates among developed countries. Singapore has a rate of nearly 30 per cent, which is still less than the 40 per cent on average boasted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries (which includes the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and Sweden).

One explanation for this might be the demand for a range of jobs in Hong Kong. People are needed to drive taxis, serve at restaurants and so on. However, technology is quickly replacing these low-income jobs. From driverless cars to entire factories, technology is replacing human labour. Therefore, rather than needing people to do these jobs, we need people to oversee the technology that will soon be carrying out various jobs.

Thus, we need more locally funded universities. We need the people of tomorrow to be educated.

Siddharth Sengupta, Mid-Levels

Unfair to leave some students out in the cold

It is unfair that secondary school students were made to go to school while primary school and kindergarten children could stay at home last Monday, when Hong Kong was experiencing record low temperatures in nearly six decades.

I think many people regard secondary school students as being mature enough to handle the challenge and therefore should not be “treated like kids”. However, this has nothing to do with maturity. Secondary school students suffered the cold just the same as others.

Should something similar happen in future, the authorities should consider letting secondary school students have a day off as well.

Jack Li, Lam Tin

Unheated classrooms felt icy

On one of the coldest days in Hong Kong in nearly 60 years, the Education Bureau did not suspend school for secondary school students but asked teachers to monitor students’ well-being and to consider suspending outdoor activities. Logically, no one would be willing to go out in this freezing weather, except the frost-chasers who had to be rescued.

Hong Kong lies in subtropics and its winters are usually not cold. In this unusual freezing weather, the government cared for the health of young children and those with special needs, but where was its care for employees and secondary school and university students?

The classrooms in some schools have heaters, but, sadly, my school is not one of them. With all the windows closed, the classrooms felt ice-cold. My classmates and I were distracted by the cold and even our teachers could not keep from shaking when they taught. Classes should have been cancelled.

Spencer Lee Hiu Ming, Sau Mau Ping

Dip in mercury unusual for subtropical city

It was ridiculous that secondary school students had to go to school last Monday when it was so cold. Many schools do not have heating facilities and many students also do not have adequate cold-weather clothing to keep warm, so hypothermia is a risk.

Some people said Hong Kong students wanted school closed because they could not handle a challenge. But this frigid cold was unexpected and unusual for our city. We should stop comparing Hong Kong with countries like Russia and the US, where students experiencing similar weather continue to attend class.

Cathy Lo, Tseung Kwan O