Regenerating Hong Kong

What should Hong Kong look like in the future if it is to respond successfully to the multiple challenges facing the world at the moment? What should it do to build resilience in the light of climate chaos and peak oil? At the moment it is heavily dependent on imports of more or less everything from abroad, and, in particular, China. Yet it wasn’t always like this, nor does it need to be in the future. In fact, if Hong Kong is to survive, it needs to make radical changes to the way it sources goods, the way it generates energy, and the way it handles waste, to name but three areas of significance. An excellent starting point would be to look at Herbert Girardet’s Regenerative Cities, which deals with the urgent need for cities to be sustainable, and more…

Although the word is never mentioned, there’s a kind of permaculture feel to what Girardet is suggesting, insofar as a primary consideration is to stop the linear flow of inputs into a city, which are then put to use and the wastes tossed out at the other end, usually to pollute the waterways, air and land. Girardet wants to close the loop, so that what goes in comes from renewable sources, and what is left over gets recycled in some way. Thus all organic waste is to be composted and used to rebuild and restore the soil. This includes sewage. All other wastes are to be recycled wherever possible. As for the energy that powers a city, this must come from massive investments in renewable energy, such as wind and solar. Close to the city centre there are market gardens and dairy farming as these need to reach the consumer quickly while they are still fresh. On the outskirts there is farming of grains, which do not need to be distributed so quickly, and around the city as a whole there are forests to absorb the greenhouse gases emitted by the city.

This whole scheme is far too sane and sensible to be even glanced at by most governments, and consequently it has little chance of being considered until it’s too late to stop major catastrophes happening. However, that shouldn’t stop us from promoting such schemes, and doing what we can to bring them about. I think it must mean a great reduction in the production and availability of all kinds of stuff, which as far as I’m concerned would be a good thing. So much rubbish is produced purely to satisfy the need for economic growth. That must stop, and indeed will whether we like it or not simply because we are now pushing up against the limits of resource availability. However, we need food and water, and energy. Cuba has shown how urban areas can grow an enormous amount of food by utilising every scrap of spare land and rooftop and turning it into an urban, organic farm. In Hong Kong we have a lot of land around the city which can be returned to productive farmland, as indeed is increasingly happening in Mui Wo; we have orchards galore which have been left untended for years; there used to be good rice-growing land in the New Territories. These should be restored to health with compost from organic wastes produced in the city, just as Giradet suggests. This would, of course, reduce the volume of waste considerably – something which is of urgent concern as the landfills are nearly completely full, and there is much opposition to the establishment of incinerators, especially in areas of natural beauty. Learning how to grow food and cook it, and conserve water, should be a fundamental part of every student’s education. Farming should be seen as the beating heart of our very existence, and farmers should be rewarded appropriately. Likewise, a drastic curtailment of the overfishing which is permitted in Hong Kong waters should be imposed so as to protect and restore fish stocks, so that fisherfolk can once again take their place next to farmers as essential guardians of the whole human enterprise. But this can’t be done until trawling is banned, and fishing conducted in a manner that respects the sea and the life in it, ensuring that stocks are kept at truly sustainable levels in perpetuity.

As for renewable energy, we have plenty of hills in Hong Kong which will have to be covered with either trees or wind turbines – where there are turbines, keep the hilltops free of trees to prevent the blocking of the wind. Wind farms should also be placed out at sea. The government should introduce feed-in tariffs, and subsidise solar panels so that every building can have as many panels as will fit on it. These should be free for the poorest members of society. The aim must be to reduce our use of fossil fuels as quickly and as dramatically as possible, with the aim of becoming a zero-carbon city within 20-30 years. If we follow the guidelines laid down by Richard Gilbert in his Electrifying Hong Kong – Making Transport Sustainable:

 we could create a healthier, safer, saner transport system in which both people and goods are transported by renewable-energy-powered vehicles.

As for the trees needed to absorb GHGs, I would suggest that concerned citizens could take the lead in this by doing some guerrilla tree planting. Choose hills that need protection, especially those that have suffered serious erosion, perhaps, and start planting native trees around the eroded areas. Experts are available to give guidance on this, and trees are available from Kadoorie Farm. With the rainy season just ahead, now is the time for us to start planning. We could also do some guerrilla pruning as well, to try to get some of the fruit trees back into production. Maybe trees should be the subject of another post.

Don Latter


About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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