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Program 1
thumb_hk_clear_sky.jpg Watch Video - Air  
Above: left - a rare clear day in Hong Kong.
Right - air pollution in Guangdong Province

In this episode, "Clearing the Air," we examine air quality in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing.

We see how one industrialist in Guangdong Province is leading the way to reduce his firm's carbon footprint. In our EARTH FACTOR YOU segment, we meet one resident of Hong Kong who is determined to make a difference to the region's waterways and in the 30% of the city's territory which are actually "country parks."
A full transcript is published below and a "low res" video is on line by clicking above. 
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this program was first broadcast just before the 2008 Olympic Games in China and has been updated for subsequent broadcast.


Full transcript Episode One

VO:  Earth Factor Asia

         With Lorraine Hahn

 On this edition – can China clear its Air?  Welcome to Earth Factor Asia.  For the past few years, attention has been focused on China’s deteriorating air quality.  We’re at a major climate change conference here at the convention center in Hong Kong.  Inside, delegates are discussing a wide range of environmental issues including how to tackle this city’s increasingly unhealthy air. We’ll get the views of key environmental movers and shakers a bit later.  But first Rob McBride tries to cut through the haze on the clean air issue. (effects music up)   

Emerging from the murk of the South China Sea, they are the giants of Ocean born trade. These are the container ships that ply the narrow channel from Hong Kong’s container facility now made one of the world’s busiest, thanks to the China trade. Smaller craft including our own working their way between these towering superstructures that come at a steady rate of one every few minutes.

 [mcbride on camera] Given the world’s appetite for everything made in China, the Lamma channel has never been busier, the ships that pass through here never fuller.   Containers full of goods being carried to stores the world over. 

This is the downstream end of a manufacturing boom that is making China rich. But it’s creating in its turn a huge environmental burden that it and the rest of the world will have to bear. Travel inland from the South China coast and you’ll enter the Pearl River Delta, the heartland of Chinese manufacturing. On what was farmland just twenty years ago: factory after factory. Many built at break-neck speed with little concern for the environment.

 [Alexis Lau, Environmental Scientist] The development of the Pearl River Delta is quite significant for the past 15 years. And a lot of that development is done without of too much consideration to air pollution control. 

Environmental standards that are set nationally by Beijing are often overlooked by local officials worried about scaring away investment. And the resulting pollution is now a major cause for concern for the international business community located here. Alan Seigrist is from the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, an organization that is increasingly concerned about the impact of American consumption.

 The consumer in the United States has to understand that ultimately they are a contributor to the Chinese pollution problem. The American consumer is driving the demand for low-coast Chinese products. Apart from air pollution produced by manufacturing, add to that the pollution from the power generation those factories require. Generators, big and small, often burning high-sulfur fuel to compensate for a power grade that can’t cope with demand. And then the vehicle emissions from thousands of trucks needed to bring the containers from the factories down to ports like Hong Kong. Among the grimy trucks: the gleam of a solution that strikes the lonely figure. Using realtime monitoring this is a project being run by a local University to map the air quality along the roads of Hong Kong. 

[Prof. Chan Chak, HKUST]  
This is realtime monitoring and the advantage is that when we travel on the road, the van is making measurements along the road as it travels. 

In the highways leading to and from the main container terminal, the emissions are amongst some of the highest in this densely populated City.

 So here we have a camera showing the road ahead of us and here is a panel showing different types of pollutants. We have elemental carbon, nitrogen oxides… 

A depressing list of pollutants along the routes to and from the port.

 …So the darker color light of red would mean that it is very polluted and yellow would mean that it is less polluted. 

Other cities and organizations in China have been looking at this vehicle and the hope is there’ll be more of them to map air pollution caused by increasing traffic. But for now it remains the only one of its kind embarked on its lonely mission.

 It is one of the first of its kind in the world that we have so much sophisticated equipment on the same platform in realtime making measurements in realtime. And definitely it’s the only one in Hong Kong and in Asia as well. 

The staff and pupils of the Chan Nam Chong Memorial College don’t need sophisticated equipment to tell them we they’re being subjected to excessive emissions. They can smell them. From the basketball court out front the school is just a major highway or two away from the world’s busiest container terminal. And when the wind blows in the wrong direction they get the full combined effect of vehicle and marine emissions.

 In that situation there is not much we can do except that we close all classroom doors, we turn on our air-conditioning. But the physical education lessons are quite seriously affected. Sometimes the air is so bad that the teachers dare not let the kids outside to have outdoor activities. We can only stay indoors. The air quality just deteriorates year after year. (Music and sound effects) Growing lungs need clean air and nothing is more predictable than we are raising a generation of children who, by the time they reach maturity at the age of eighteen, will have impaired lung function. It will be suboptimal for life.  

Prof. Anthony Hedley is a leading community physician and an outspoken critic of Hong Kong’s air pollution. While the city has invested in sophisticated monitoring of its air, actually taking action to solve the problem is sadly lacking, according to Hedley.

 Today, the actions which have being taken are far too little and too late. The burgeoning economic development here, billions in any currency, is associated with an enormous increase in shipping traffic. And the marine emissions are sulfur-rich fuels. 

For its part the Hong Kong Government has launched a number of “clean air” initiatives and is promising further action. It points to steps taken to reduce air pollution from vehicle traffic and power generation. But its emission standards fall way behind other parts of the developed world. A city that likes to see itself as world class but with a pollution problem that would suggest otherwise.  

 I would say Hong Kong’s air quality is not as good as most of the cities we like to compare ourselves with - like Los Angeles, London, Singapore, Tokyo – international financial centers. Compared to those our air pollution is much worse. 

Like the school near the container terminal, this is a city at the mercy of the prevailing winds. And while Hong Kong’s famous harbor can look like this,

it can also look like this. Winds from the north blowing clouds of pollution from the Pearl River Delta that combine with banks of mist to create a murky blanket. Luckless tourists are left trying to get pictures of themselves against a non-existent skyline.

 It looks much better from the plane and from the Google maps.com. In the reality we are a little bit disappointed. 

Shanghai, the economic dynamo of China, finds itself living under a similar pollution blanket of its own making.

 [Alan Seigrist, American Chamber of commerce] The mainland Chinese Government is very concerned about this issue but again there’s a certain government bureaucracy in China of maybe a few dozen people who understand the nature of the problem and are trying to fix it. But a few dozen people can’t fix the problem for a country of a billion people.  

But even for the high-growth economies of Asia which have built their success on a laisser-faire form of government there’s an increasing awareness by officials that action must be taken.


For as the vast container ships head out into the South China Sea laden with their goods, so high above them in the atmosphere the air pollution created has already begun its jet stream journey across the Pacific.


(video and musical bumper)


We’ll see later what happens to that pollution. But first I spoke to former Hong Kong lawmaker/environmental campaigner, Christine Loh. I began by asking her about the health effects living with such high levels of pollution.

 I think living in an environment with a constantly high pollution is definitely not good for health. And then, we have days when we have very cute air pollution.. So why are you still here? Well, I want to clean up, this is my home - I think, in fact, one of the most important things for China as a whole…, one of the greatest challenges that we have today is the environmental challenge. We’ve got to clean up and we’ve got to take care of people’s public health. When we look at mainland statistics, the government knows that two thirds of the citysuffer from moderate to high pollution. That’s not good for the health of the Chinese nation as a whole. So actually I tend to think Hong Kong being the richest city in China by a long stretch -  what we do here, what we can do to collaborate, how we can clean up the Pearl River Delta area -  that’s really a first order mission for us. Because if we don’t actually clean up the air pollution and other forms of pollution here: Are we going to continue to be a global financial centre? Because I think global talent today wants a certain lifestyle and maybe there will be more people who won’t want to come and live here. So what can government do to help the pollution issue? China can do a lot. First of all, one of the big issues that the nation has already taken on is to be much more energy-efficient. This will mean that we are going to use less energy. That means we will emit less emissions over all. And I think that’s very important. What about businesses? What can they do? I think the businessmen are really beginning to care but they always say “Look, if everybody has to do it then I have a level playing field. If I’m just being asked to take voluntary measures and be the good corporate citizen, if I did it and the other companies don’t do it then I’m going to lose out on my profit margins.” So I think companies really need some kind of regulatory platform to do this. The governments very often are very hesitant and of course, when the consult businesses there’re always going to be people who say “We’d rather you didn’t do this”. And people always say “We’ll do more public education”. But I haven’t seen many things around the world where we’ve had enough just on voluntary action. So I do think tightening standards, regulation has got to come.   Now that pollution we saw earlier smothering Hong Kong and southern China is no longer just a problem here. What is happening has much broader implications as Jim Laurie found out in Vancouver, Canada. 

Vancouver. The pristine look of the harbor is deceptive. For what goes around comes around. The dust and pollution of East Asia and has found its way to west coast North America.

Ian McKendry studies the alarming trend. Since 1998 he has been plotting what he calls events.

 So this is a very nice example. This is not simulations, this is the real satellite imagery. 

The satellite pictures show it: sulfite aerosols from coal and gas burnt in Asia - swirling amid yellow dust storms carried to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California.

 Episodically, during individual events when we get rapid transit of large amounts of pollution, they may contribute a third or half even to the pollutants that we’re measuring on the ground in cities along the west coast of North America. 

With tiny devices like these, McKendry spends a lot of time measuring TRAP, Transpacific Air Pollution.

 Basically, this is an optical particle counter. It has a little laser beam in it, particles in the atmosphere scatter that light and this can measure that. The amount of scattering tells you about the size of the particles and how many they are. 

Whether mounted on balloons or perched on west coast mountain tops, the instruments isolate what’s blowing in from Asia from home-grown pollution.

 These are particles that one breathes into the lungs and that can produce respiratory illness and so on.  

The data forms the basis of these computer animations.

 This is over just several days. It typically takes dust and pollution from Asia, which is the main source here, to travel across the Pacific maybe six to eight days. 

So, from the banks of the Yangtze River to the shores of the Pacific Coast: Evidence from science that Asia’s environmental problems are problems for the whole planet.

 Air pollution is a fact of life in parts of Asia but there are a growing number of people here committed to a greener environment. Kira Shannon is one of those attending this Climate Change Conference. This is her story.  (music)   I’m Kira Shannon and I work with the Business Environmental Council. Businesses must realize that the way forward has to be the triple line of business. When you start to consider environmental aspects but also your social impact and turn that into the economic bottom line of business. There is a massive understanding that businesses need to change. We’ve seen all over the world where policies can be implemented very quickly. So if we suddenly have to change our lifestyle then I think what becomes encouraging is that you will see the most incredible innovations in terms of solar power or renewable energy or a different type of air conditioning unit. It’s a very interesting, intellectual space that we’re about to move into and I find it very exciting. And here, right in the centre of Hong Kong, the heart of Hong Kong -  is Hong Kong’s harbor. I work for the Harbor Business Forum and that’s really my focus which is really looking at how the harbor can be Hong Kong’s main asset.  43% of Hong Kong are country parks. I think very few cities in the world have got such a high percentage of country parks. It is a very, very beautiful place, I love it. I try doing my best to push things forward, be annoying, be a bit of a fly or a mosquito, buzz buzz. Last year I got the chance to go to Antarctica and this film is the result of that trip. The thing that struck me the most was the silence. It’s this deep silence. The purpose of this film really was to inspire young people to show that renewable energy has to be the way forward. And also how interconnected we are and how there are no boundaries when it comes to climate change. I’m Kira Shannon. It starts with us.  

Corporate social responsibility is the buzz phrase that has been adopted by businesses in Asia to show they’re environmentally friendly. But are they sincere? One of Hong Kong’s leading business figures, David Eldon, warns that unless they are they risk being punished by the international community. As they were over the issue of child labor.

 They brought pressure on those companies not to deal with any company that was employing under-aged labor. Eventually, if we don’t do anything about it - it’s going to come down to issues like pollution. Who’s muddying the water, who is polluting the atmosphere? Shareholders are going to say “Don’t go and buy goods from those sort of people!” So somewhere down the line somebody’s got to take a decision and say “We have to do something about it now”. And it doesn’t just apply to the manufacturers. It also applies to the amount of travel that people do, the amount of energy they use in their big offices. I think there is a role for business here. Do you think Beijing is really committed to tackling environmental issues? I think they are serious about it. I think they realize that they are creating a dreadful future for their country and for the people in major cities like Beijing if they don’t act now. And it’s like all of these things: the longer you leave them, the harder they are to deal with. You’ve got to put into perspective the fact that China has developed at a rate that has been unheard of anywhere else in the world. And as it has continued to bring people out of poverty, as it has continued to provide jobs for people, its focus has not been on issues like pollution.  The argument, of course, is that developing countries who want to increase economic growth need to balance that with sustainable development. Is that possible? I think you can do it but it does take some effort. And it takes a willingness, particularly of the authorities. Because it’s very easy for companies just to slip back and say “Nobody is looking, nobody is worrying about it. I can save coasts if I don’t do this and therefore I will get away with it for as long as I can”. I’m sure you must have heard the saying “Why should I care? I’ll leave it to the next generation to deal with it”. I’ve heard it and it’s a tough one. Of course, people are around to be profitable, particularly the business community. But there are enough right-minded people out there, I’m sure, who do recognize that you wouldn’t have the progress today if you hadn’t been thinking way into the future as to what was going to happen. The environment has to become one of those things you think about for the future.  But enough of the problems. What about the solutions? Our approach in this series has been to look for answers.  We visited a company in southern China close to Hong Kong to look at its “blue sky” approach to business. And by implementing its corporate philosophy it’s setting an example for others. 

It may be one of the biggest names in shirts you’ve never heard of: Esquel. But chances are your closet contains at least one of the many well-known upmarket brands that are made at its factories in Asia. It is the world’s largest producer of cotton shirts, turning out sixty Million each year. The Hong Kong based company employs about 27.000 people, most of them in southern China’s Pearl River Delta.


New production lines are being assembled to keep up with demand. And this is the power behind those power shirts.

A 29 Million Dollar investment in its own coal-fired, low emission thermo power plant. The plant uses cleaner, low-sulfur coal from Vietnam. Lime is added to further reduce the sulfite content in the emissions. With a 30.000 kilowatt capacity and producing 100 tons of steam per hour, the plant meets most of Esquel’s energy needs. Even so when the factory is running at full capacity it is still not enough.

 What you can see here on the screen is the amount of electricity we are taking from the local power grid at any one time.  Esquel previously took all of its power from the grid but now only taps in when needed saving coasts and reducing emissions.  One of the biggest differences between this new type of coal-fired power station and some of the older plants operating in China are these massive dust collectors that ensure that most of the ash is extracted from the emissions.  Being emitted from the chimneys overhead: mostly steam.  

Although the company is something of a rarity here change is in the air. And to a large part it’s being driven by Esquel and companies like it.

 I’m glad to say that the issue of environmental protection is certainly front and centre. Dr. John Cheh is the American-educated COO of Esquel and during a visit to the company’s Hong Kong headquarters I asked him how bad the situation is in southern China. The air really is very bad. You can smell it, you can see it. But we are doing what we can to reduce power consumption, to reduce sulfur dioxide emission, reduce dust particles and hopefully others will either be required to do so by their government or really in the long-term see that it is in their own business’ interest. Any other initiatives that you’ve introduced? Environmental protection is very much part of our corporate culture and corporate vision. It is embedded in our values -  starting with ethics then going to environmental protection – and this is not just a top down  comment. Everyday, our staff, our workers are very conscious of the need to, for example, turn off the lights when they leave the room.   Lunchtime at the Esquel offices in China and the lights go off. The chance for a sandwich and to catch up on emails in the dark. The Seven Million Dollar waste water plant is another of the green system’s implemented by Esquel. It recycles 100 percent of the water used at this site.  This one is after it has been cleaned. It can meet the national and the local standard and can go back to the river. Recycled water is also used in these so-called water curtains, a kind of primitive air-conditioning in older parts of the plant. And in all the offices the thermostat’s kept at a tolerable 26 degrees Celsius or 79 Fahrenheit.In addition, alternate tubes are removed from the ceiling lights and only those parts of the production line that are working being lit.  In the dyeing plant these vats are being insulated to provide further energy saving. All told, the company reckons it has invested 50 Million Dollars in five years in greening its production line. With energy consumption down by a quarter and ten percent less chemicals used. We have been recognized by some of our major customers who have given us environmental awards and CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility Award. I think that’s a virtues circle – it’s good for the environment and it’s good for business. And that’s it for this episode. Join me again as we explore more critical environmental issues on Earth Factor Asia. I’m Lorraine Hahn. We’ll see you again.

Music up dissolve to credits



 Rob McBride


Additional Cameras

 Christopher Bedyk

 Chris Dobson

 Cheuk Yan Kwok



Chris Dobson


Segment Producer

Colleen Leung



Rob McBride


Online Editor

Cheuk Yan Kwok


Executive Producer

Jim Laurie


Production Facilities and technical support

Salon Films Hong Kong Ltd.


This Program made possible in part through a generous contribution from the NOBLE TRUST of Hong Kong


Earth Factor Asia


Focus Asia Productions Ltd. 2008

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