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In Hong Kong, we like to blame pollution on the factories of neighboring Guangdong province, but the fact is that vehicle emissions are an even greater contributor to the appalling state of our air. After coal-burning power plants, they comprise the second largest form of air pollution, and the city reels daily, in emphysematous torment, because many of us imagine ownership of a Merc or Beemer to be some kind of fundamental human right.
There should be no problem, therefore, with passing a law that would prevent drivers from leaving their engines idling while waiting for partners, children, employers, drug dealers, hookers or whoever it is that keeps them there, at the kerb, emitting gratuitous carbon. After all, we’re not talking about imposing some draconian new fuel standard or punitive road tax. We’re just asking that drivers turn off their engines when their cars are stationary, as they are required to do in many places around the world.
Instead of committing to this mere formality of environmental protection, however, the government is moot. Chief Executive Donald Tsang said some months ago that prospective legislation “may” ban idling engines only “at particular hours” and “in particular zones,” which is as good as useless. Back in 2005, the legislature actually a passed a motion to ban idling engines but nothing happened, because the government decided the issue was “controversial,” as though reducing the amount of deadly pollutants in the air could in any way be tainted with controversy.
The Secretary for the Environment, Edward Yau, referred to the issue as controversial again yesterday—so much so that he is actually launching a two-month public consultation on the matter (“Would you like to keep choking on the same morbid haze? Tick yes or no”). But let us be clear. There is nothing to consult the public about. And the only controversy about a ban is that drivers won’t be able to run the air-conditioner or CD player while parked anymore.
They’ll get over it. It will take us somewhat longer to get over the government’s indecision about such a simple and same time urgent matter of public health.