Hong Kong Faces Pollution-Driven Brain Drain

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A new survey released yesterday by Hong Kong’s Civic Exchange found that one in four residents are considering leaving Hong Kong because of the city’s chronic air pollution problems. Over half the people surveyed with post-graduate educations are considering leaving — up 12% from 2008 — along with 37% of university graduates. Only 22% of residents with a high school education are thinking about leaving.

All told, some two million people are thinking about leaving the city because of the near constant blanket of smog that hangs over this famous skyline. According to a Gallup survey cited in the report, Hong Kongers are the most dissatisfied people about pollution in the world.

The urge to flee follows economic lines: Nearly half of the residents who are making  $92,000 or more per year are considering emigrating because of the city’s bad air, whereas only 27% of people making between $30K and 40K are considering, mostly likely because of the cost associated with making that kind of a move.

(Here’s a look at today’s air pollutions levels, if you’re curious. High in every neighborhood listed. I can barely see across the harbor from my office window. And it’s not a big harbor.)

The survey findings is something the Hong Kong government ought to give some serious thought to. As TIME wrote about back in 2007, foreign white collar workers who help run the multinationals that set up camp here have already started opting to live in Singapore over China’s international city for the quality of life — and quality of air — that the island nation offers. Of the Chinese cities, Beijing and Shanghai are, frankly, now perceived as more dynamic places to be. But forget foreigners (many would argue good riddance): the real trouble is if Hong Kong’s best and brightest are considering skipping town, which apparently, they are.

A big part of the problem, as the survey also covers, is that people have lost faith that the government is going to do anything to help them. Hong Kong has shown time and again that when it wants to get something done, it does it. Major land reclamation projects in Victoria Harbor are regularly underway. The public hospital system is respected, and the MTR — our subway — is probably among the most beloved public transportation systems on the planet, and with good reason. You could eat off that floor.

While most people do have faith in the government when it comes to information dissemination and having their best interests at heart, when it comes to lowering the city’s enduring bad air quality, one in five residents does not trust it to set and enforce air quality standards. And public sector workers harbor the highest levels of skepticism. Ouch.

Maybe the government should consider subsidizing Fresh Air?


ALSO: To keep it all in perspective, according to a new list compiled by 24/7 Wall St., we’re only #9 of the 10 worst air cities in the world. Our colleagues in Beijing have it worse.