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Militant's Manual to a Smaller Carbon Footprint

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on December 4, 2007

I decided to make my own modest contribution to the Bali Forum on Climate Change by staying home in Hong Kong instead of flying 4.5 hours to cover the story on site. I’ve been to many global gabfests in the past, the WTO talks in Hong Kong in 2005, the Francophone Summit in Hanoi in 1997, and more ASEAN ministerial meetings than I care to remember. Viewed purely in terms of news value, the events tend to be real snoozers.

Oops. I just scanned the wires and saw that Australia has joined the Kyoto Protocol. Bravo Premier Rudd! Now let’s see if your American cousins will wake up and smell the carbon.

Anyway, I’ve always believed that too much time and resources are spent on global forums when often the simplest solutions lay within our reach. Think global, act local, right? So let me explain to you my own little campaign that achieves an immediate reduction in carbon emissions.

I come from a family of inveterate walkers, and I eschew internal combustion engines as much as I can. This can be something of a liability during summer in Hong Kong, prompting my friend Joanne Ooi, creative designer at Shanghai Tang to nickname me Sweaty Freddie. Anyway, this morning while I was walking to work in Causeway Bay, a few kilometers from my house, every time I came across a driver parked with the engine idling, I politely asked him [it’s never a her] to turn it off.

But as I left my leafy neighborhood and penetrated the heart of Wan Chai, I became more militant. On four separate occasions I came across trucks in the process of unloading, so I opened the cabin door and turned off the ignition myself. In a fifth case, the driver was standing beside his van smoking a cigarette. He told me he was planning to leave soon, but I reached in and switched off the motor anyway. Luckily I’m a brisk walker.

I’ve been pursuing this anti-idle engine campaign for the better part of two years, averaging about five cars a day. On a good day I can even get a tour bus or two to cut their motors. So I’m guessing conservatively, that the average parked vehicle sits with its engine running 10 minutes, that’s 50 minutes fewer fumes for the people of Hong Kong. I’m not sure what that would sell for in the carbon credit market, but this is my pro-bono contribution effort anyway.

P.S. If anyone else wants to try this, I suggest you don’t try my militant methods with the drivers of the Securicor and Guard Force Security Trucks. These armored beasts may be mighty belchers, and I constantly see the drivers munching lunch or studying the racing forms with the motors going. But don’t try to reach into their trucks and grab for the keys: these guys carry guns.

Reader Comments


December 5, 2007 12:31 AM

Hats (and engines) off to you Frederick! We need a catchy name -- and smart t-shirts -- for this sort of benevolent militancy so the idea catches fire. "Carbon disobedience" ... ?


December 5, 2007 12:47 AM

Way to go Freddie! I think HK gov't should learn something from you - walk the talk!


December 5, 2007 6:37 AM

I can't believe you do that ! When gas prices were really high. I had thought about telling drivers in upstate New York who were leaving their cars running while dashing in to the 7/11 to turn them off.

But I didn't have the nerve .

What are your thoughts on people who turn off the ignition while driving down a hill ?


December 5, 2007 10:20 AM

Man, You are awesome! You put those drivers to shame!


December 5, 2007 4:04 PM

Hell of a good idea. I'll print your story and send it to a couple of Canadian newspapers


December 5, 2007 9:56 PM

HK’s favorite eco-warrior – you should be wearing a mask and cape. Good stuff, keep it up.


December 6, 2007 9:56 PM

way to go - you're doing what a lot of people want to do but don't dare to.

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