Waste not, want not

December 7th, 2012 atam Posted in Climate change, Culture, Earth, General | No Comments »

Hong Kongers are now prepared for waste charging, according to the latest reports.

We don’t want a smelly extension to the landfill nor do we want a polluting incinerator – which may still be pushed through by the government – so we’ll take the lesser evil and accept being charged for our waste instead.

We are deeply concerned about the issue of waste because it’s so close to home, literally: we generate it and can see it and smell it.

But what about what we can’t see or smell? Like, for instance, the wasteland created in Canada by our desperate need for oil. These National Geographic photos show how tar sands are mined to extract oil – a hugely polluting and inefficient operation that would not be cost-effective if the world still has plenty of the easily recoverable oil available.

At the “Ecology and Economics” workshop organised by Kadoorie Farm on December 4, speaker Chandran Nair described Hong Kong as Disneyland compared with some other places in the world where even basic sanitation was lacking.

Those living in rundown subdivided flats in Sham Shui Po would beg to differ, but there’s no denying that Hong Kong as a whole provides a better standard of living than many other parts of the world. And he’s sadly right in more ways than one. Look at how the stock market’s jumped in response to news that China’s economic growth is picking up again. But is this really cause for celebration?

Take a look at the charts on China’s energy use from Business Insider. The data comes from Goldman Sachs, which no doubt compiled it with a view towards identifying opportunities for making lots of money, whether they’re predicated on good news or disaster.

What the charts show is a country that accounts for a huge chunk of the world’s energy use. It is a chunk that is getting bigger but, alarmingly, it owes its size not only to the determination to push economic growth, but also to push it however inefficient the efforts may be. The country now accounts for almost half of worldwide coal consumption – the dirtiest fossil fuel there is.

With this level of energy use, demand is bound to rise and rise – and you know what that means for fuel prices. So how should the government act when the electricity companies apply for tariff increases? If we’re prepared to pay for waste disposal, why aren’t we prepared to pay more for electricity usage, particularly when much can be done to reduce it? Similarly, rather than bang on about the oil companies profiteering, why don’t we ask ourselves whether we really need to drive everywhere? Lam Chiu Ying, who also spoke at the workshop, talked about how he was brainwashed by our materialistic society when he was young and, as soon as the family grew, decided to buy a car. Now he leads a much simpler life.

Which is what Dr Satish Kumar, who headlined the workshop, wants all of us to do. Spend a little less time working in the office; spend a little bit of time growing something, be it a tree or a herb. And he set an example for us all: while the rest of us went straight back to the lecture room to continue with the workshop after lunch, he went off for a nap.

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