HK Time Out Magazine: Mind the [Poverty] Gap, Column #24

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Mind the Gap
Our city can boast many superlatives – most expensive housing rental market, largest collection of skyscrapers and highest per-capita orange consumption to name a few. One achievement to be more embarrassed about though, is the fact that the city of superlatives has the widest income gap of any other rich nation.

While Gini coefficients are by no means a perfect way of gauging equality, the UN measurement has shown a steadily broadening gap between rich and poor since the 90s. Financial crisis or not, Forbes magazine says HK’s richest are 65 per cent wealthier than last year, just as the poor have inevitably gotten poorer with 1.33 now living below the city’s poverty line.

Older residents who lived through the sixties know that folks can only be pushed so far before civil unrest emerges. The failure of ‘trickle down’ economics has not gone unnoticed by young people either. Even graduates are finding themselves stuck in their $18.94/hr jobs at KFC. They know they will not see the same job security as their parents, plus they’ve a billion or so mainlanders to compete against. Throw in a sense of powerlessness with a government offering little in terms of social welfare, and you have what the media dubs the ‘post-80s’ movement.

Despite political thinkers and NGOs warning of an inequality time bomb, the only gap our government will confess to a communication deficit. Tsang’s only response to young dissenters has been to admit that LEGCO is a bit crap with new media. Somehow, disillusionment with the rich political elite is down to them not being on Facebook and Twitter. Well Donald, we think you’re dreaming if you reckon the same old message sent via new technology will have any more impact. If deprivation is the parent of revolution and crime, our unelected leaders would be wise to bypass the tweeting and do a little more listening!

HK Time Out Magazine: Making Waves, Column #23

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Making Waves
When it comes to international climate policy, HK is in the convenient position of being able to hide behind China’s developing country status and exemption from Kyoto Protocol cuts. Yet the most recent data suggests we produce a monstrous 29 tonnes per capita – more than the US or China and second only to Luxembourg. And as embarrassing as it is to lose to such a relentlessly bland country, this is not something HK should be getting competitive about.

One diamond is the rough is a certain Lucien Gambarota from a company called Motorwave. Lucien moved to HK from France in 1987 and has been tinkering with renewable energy technology for decades. Experimenting with wave, solar and wind power around the territory, Motorwave has even invented electricity-generating exercise bikes. Their own factory is going carbon-free and they’re hoping to make some small islands energy sustainable. Recently, Gambarota has been working with construction companies on the Kai Tak re-development, Hennessy Centre and at HKU to integrate thousands of his wind turbines into their building plans.

Certainly, HK Electric and CLP Power – reputed as one of the world’s dirtiest energy companies – need to take note and ditch their reliance on coal more quickly. However, there is unfortunately more to the figures than our own fossil fuel-based economy. Though we enjoy decent public transport, few factories and low vehicle ownership, much of our colossal domestic footprint is down to imports. When the built-in carbon cost of mainland goods and our high levels of consumption are considered, it is then when we see such huge per capita statistics.

Some green energy companies are definitely making waves, but our elephant sized carbon footprint will remain an elephant in the room until we see a campaign for austerity and challenge, rather than hide behind, the Motherland.