By CHAN TSZ CHUN RACHEL
(Image retrieved 29 October, 2013 from
Link to the RTHK Documentary about light pollution-http://programme.rthk.hk/rthk/tv/programme.php?name=tv/hkcc&d=2013-10-27&p=858&e=237142&m=episode
Light pollution is caused by excessive use of lighting system by human. Apart from leading to excessive energy usage and high electricity cost, it also destroys the ecosystem and causes sky glow, light trespass in our living, so as causing health problems like glare (Lighting Research Center, 2013) and greater risk of cancer. (Bullough; Rea; Figueiro, 2006). Since the situation is deteriorating in Hong Kong, the Task Force on External Lighting began its first attempt to involve public in drafting possible regulations by publishing the Document for Engaging Stakeholders and the Public in August 2013.
SITUATION IN HONG KONG
(Image retrieved 29 October, 2013 from http://nightsky.physics.hku.hk/index.php)
According to the International Astronomical Union, the natural NSB level is 21.6 mag/arcsec2 (Smith, 1979). However, the survey conducted by Department of Physics, HKU shown that the NSB level in Hong Kong is brighter than normal level for 100-1200 times. In densely populated residential or commercial areas like Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Shui, their brightness is around 100-500 times brighter than rural areas in New Territories or outlying islands. (Jason and Chu, 2011)
WORK DONE BY GOVERNMENT
In 2008, the HKSAR government promised to start studying the regulation over external lighting. A special group named the Task Force on External Lighting was set up in 2011 and till August 2013, they published the Document for Engaging Stakeholders and the Public and organized a public forum that aimed to collect public opinions on its proposal over:
1) Requiring lighting installations with decorative, promotional or advertising uses to be switched off after a particular time to alleviate the problem of light nuisance and energy wastage;
2) Score of requirement of the above regulation;
3) Exemptions; and
4) Method of implementation (Information Services Department, 2013)
However, there have been general concern and criticism over government’s attempt in solving the problem. For instance, for over two years, no consensus on significant issue was achieved in the Task Force. Thus limiting the scope of consultation, which mainly focus on whether the preset time is set at 11pm or 12pm, and the regulation should launch as a voluntary or legal-binding one. Besides, ¼ members of the Force resigned from the job during this period and leaving only three members from environmental-related expertise. It has also been criticized for not inviting all members to attend meetings or forum, censored information from members, so as informing district councils of consultation. (Hong Kong Connection, 2013)
Hong Kong, as an international city with many skyscrapers, it is understandable that trader wish to advertise through neon lights. However, when competition is getting serious and started to interrupts the general public, the government must act as a neutral regulatory body. The scope of the regulation should be broad and in multi-perspective. Among the force members, 16/19 are not familiar with environment issues and mainly from business sector, such imbalance would easily favour those in business, and limit the implementation of a sustainable plan, balancing economical, environmental and social lives.
Hong Kong is relatively slow in addressing this problem and should learn more from other countries. Like in Frankfurt, the law set up a range for permissible luminance and luminance and look into violations case-by-case with all-rounded considerations. Though workload is high, this helps regulating light pollution while maintaining feasibility and considerations for different stakeholders. And in New York and L.A., limits of energy consumption of new external lighting installations are clearly defined with strict punishments (Energy Conservation Construction Code and California Energy Code). The government should include more foreign examples and encourage public to access the feasibility of such practices in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has long been crowned with the name ‘Pearl of the East’, yet such ‘Pearl’ will be deemed if the city just focuses on commercial development in sake of environmental protection and citizens’ well-being. It is time for the government to make significant moves, extend the scope of research, investigate the true causes and solutions, and make sustainable plans.
Bullough, JD; Rea, MS; Figueiro, MG. (2006) Of mice and women: light as a circadian stimulus in breast cancer research. Lighting Research Center.
California Building Standards Commission. (1978). California Energy Code. California Building Standards Commission.
Department of State, Office of Planning & Development. (2010). Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York State. Department of State, Office of Planning & Development.
Hong Kong Connection. Accessed on 29 October, 2013. Waiting for the sky to shine. Retrieved from http://programme.rthk.hk/rthk/tv/programme.php?name=tv/hkcc&d=2013-10-27&p=858&e=237142&m=episode
Information Services Department. (19 August 2013). Task Force on External Lighting organises stakeholder and public engagement exercise. Information Services Department.
Jason P., WingSo C. (June 2011). Night-sky brightness monitoring in Hong Kong. Springerlink.com
Kloog, I; Haim, A; Stevens, RG; Portnov, BA. (2009) Global co-distribution of light at night (LAN) and cancers of prostate, colon, and lung in men. Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Management.
Lighting Research Center. Accessed on 29 October, 2013. National Lighting Product Information Program (Light Pollution Q&A). Retrieved from http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/nlpip/lightinganswers/lightpollution/abstract.asp
Smith, F. (1979). Report and Recommendations of IAU commission 50. Reports on Astronomy.Transactions of the International Astronomical Union