HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong may be known as the Pearl of the Orient for its bright-light, big-city allure, but the ubiquitous practice of keeping neon signs and buildings blazing all night has come under growing fire from green groups.
One of the world's most densely built-up and populated metropolises, Hong Kong is also one of the most brightly lit.
From bustling streets bathed in an array of neon signs to gargantuan spotlight-strewn advertising hoardings to massed light-specked skyscrapers twinkling off the waters of Victoria harbor at night, the glow over the sleepless city makes it difficult to glimpse stars in the night sky.
In an era of growing green consciousness and global warming fears, environmentalists are increasingly critical of this ostentatious display, calling it as unnecessary and wasteful.
"The trend is getting worse and worse," said Hahn Chu, the environmental affairs manager for Friends of the Earth: "Hong Kong always thinks the brighter things are, the more prosperous we seem, but people often forget that we're wasting energy."
While Hong Kong doesn't have compulsory measures for lights out, a recent public opinion poll on energy conservation by the Council for Sustainable Development found 71 percent of over 80,000 people backed turning off neon lights in the small hours.
In 2008, the city's environmental protection department received some 50 complaints about light pollution, up from the 40 cases received in 2007, with neon signs posing a growing nuisance for the public.
A massive neon sign advertising luxury brand Prada was found to be one of the worst offenders in an online poll, spilling intense white light onto a near-deserted Central street until till 5 a.m. every day.
"This is flamboyant wastage and creates light pollution," one respondent was quoted as saying.
A spokesperson for Prada in Hong Kong said it had noted the concern, was "actively seeking a solution and we will reduce the lighting," she added without giving specifics.
In an initiative named "Dim It Please," Friends of the Earth called on retailers and building owners to set a lights-off time after business hours to conserve energy and reduce emissions.
The group says Hong Kong's electricity consumption grew 18 percent between 1997-2006, outpacing local population growth of 5.9 percent in the same period.
Light pollution however, is by no means unique to Hong Kong.
NASA photographs of global "artificial night sky brightness" display a conspicuous "luminous fog" around much of Western Europe and North America as well much of Japan, Taiwan, while Hong Kong shows up as a bright spot in the southern China region.
Global experts say light pollution has become so pronounced that two thirds of the U.S. population and about half the EU are no longer able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye.
Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang seems to be seeing the light.
In his annual policy address last week he said the government would "assess the problem of energy wastage of external lighting and study the feasibility of tackling the problem through legislation."
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by David Fox)
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