The human race is witnessing the deterioration of the environment - made more painful by the fact that it is partly of our own making. According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the annual mean temperature in the city has been rising, and is estimated to increase by 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
A study by the observatory shows that the annual number of hot nights (with a temperature of 28 degrees or above) and very hot days (with a temperature of 33 degrees or above) are expected to increase significantly. On the other hand, the annual number of cold days (with a temperature of 12 degrees or below) will continue to drop.
The severity of the issue has always caused concern, especially for the young, who are likely to be the main victims if things take a turn for the worse.
Andrew Hung Siu-chau, a second- year architecture student at the City University of Hong Kong, said that we put too much importance on development, while ignoring the harmonious relationship between humans and nature.
"This relationship is vital although it may be subtle," says Hung, one of a team of five students who won the top award in the Business Environment Council's Low-Carbon Home design competition.
The competition, which was launched this year, is open to tertiary students who are into urban planning, architecture, engineering and real estate. About 30 teams submitted their green residential development designs.
Hung and his teammates named their project "Green Veins," featuring transportation systems and buildings for a green housing estate in Zhongshan, Guangdong and arranged in a vein-like network found in nature in a tree leaf. "Keeping [the relationship between man and nature] in mind, we came up with the concept of 'vein,' which not only delivers water and nutrients from the soil to the leaves but also carries the products of photosynthesis back to the stems and trunk," Hung explains.
"We captured this vein's feature, which is to serve as a medium to communicate our ideal of human-nature relationship."
Team member Charlie Ip Kwok-wai adds: "We always think about how to strike a balance." He says the team had to tackle problems using creative solutions that were feasible and available locally.
Climate change in Hong Kong can be attributed to both greenhouse gas emissions and urbanization, which creates an "urban heat island" where temperatures are higher than rural surroundings.
According to figures from the Environmental Protection Department, electricity generation accounts for roughly two-thirds of the total greenhouse gas emissions in Hong Kong, followed by transport and waste disposal.
For these students, the vision of a life on the leaf is a fitting response to a set of problems that has troubled them since childhood.
They are painfully aware that Hong Kong residents have to contend with tiny living spaces. They endure poor ventilation and suffocating summer heat.
Relying on a climate study to grasp the prevailing winds, the team proposed that buildings be arranged in a helix pattern, to capture maximum natural sunlight and ventilation.
Green devices such as wind turbines and water wheels are also employed to generate electricity.
Skyscrapers are a must-have for an international financial center, but residents who care about quality living long for green landscapes as much as greenbacks.
The team reserved 85 percent of green coverage in their design, so that nature can do its magic in adjusting temperatures.
What is also notable is the inclusion of a green hub which provides a recreational space and some shops. Cycling paths are planned to reduce auto emissions. "We believe it is important to get people to interact with nature," Ip says.
August Tiu Chin-wai, head of project at Agile Property Holdings and one of the judges on the competition panel, says that the winning team's design stood out because it is highly feasible.
"Homebuyers are ready to accept these features since they will help them save money in the long run," Tiu says. "It takes time to incorporate more feasible ideas into real-life projects, but they can turn out to be selling points."
The clock is ticking. What is at stake here has a bearing on each of us.