The forbidden city where diesel vehicles are banned

I came across this illustration named “the forbidden city” (figure 1) recently, which was an interesting allusion to Germany’s ruling to allow its cities to ban diesel vehicles, except for those that meet the Euro 6 emission standard, in restricted areas. The Euro 6 standard is an European emission standard that sets limits for exhaust emissions such as carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, etc, emitted by new vehicles manufactured in the European Union (EU).

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figure 1

The first European emission standard, Euro 1, was introduced in 1992, which was amended with stricter limits as time went by. The latest Euro 6 standard was adopted in 2014. The illustration tells the story of a forbidden city, where the blue vehicle, an Euro 6 automobile, is allowed in the city, and the red one, an Euro 5 vehicle, is banned. This points to Hamburg, the first German city that banned diesel vehicles that failed to meet the Euro 6 standard from entering some of its busy roads. More German cities will follow suit. Stuttgart will ban diesel vehicles of the Euro 4 or older standards from 2019. Frankfurt was obliged to implement the same ban on Euro 4 or older standards vehicles from February 2019, and a stricter ban on Euro 5 as well from September next year.

As more countries are on their ways to ban fossil fuel vehicles, more environmentally-friendly vehicles such as electric ones are the future. The road may be bumpier for some countries, but hopefully that leads to greener and more sustainable societies.


首個實施柴油汽車禁令的城市

最近看到以上名為「禁城」的報刊插圖(見圖一 figure 1),詼諧地報道了德國今年二月起允許各城市頒布柴油汽車禁令,除符合歐洲汽車廢氣排放標準(European emission standards)歐盟六期(Euro 6)的車輛外,德國城市可對不符合標準的柴油車實施限行。歐盟六期是由歐盟國家共同採納的歐洲汽車廢氣排放標準,限制了不同類型汽車的廢氣污染物排放,包括一氧化碳(CO)、碳氫化合物(HC)、氮氧化物(NOx)和懸浮粒子(PM)。

首個歐洲汽車廢氣排放標準為歐盟一期,於1992年推出,其後陸續加強收緊排放限值,最新的排放標準為歐盟六期,於2014年生效。插畫描述「禁城」禁止圖中紅色的汽車進城,因其為歐盟五期排放標準的車輛,而藍色汽車則為歐盟六期車輛,可在城內自由駕駛。插畫中的「禁城」就是漢堡,漢堡是德國首個對歐盟六期以外柴油車頒布限駛令的城市,嚴禁未達標的柴油車駛進部分繁忙道路,未來將有更多德國城市仿效。史特加(Stuttgart)將於2019年1月起對歐盟四期或以前排放標準的柴油車頒布禁令,而法蘭克福(Frankfurt)將於2019年2月緊隨其後,同年9月起更加禁歐盟五期車輛。

隨著越來越多國家制定禁止化石燃料汽車時間表,發展更環保的汽車如電動汽車是大勢所趨。這需要社會不同持份者的配合,雖然不易,但有助社會變得更環保和可持續發展。

How old trees are preserved in Japan

These days I was in Kyushu Japan. As the place did not bear the brunt of typhoon Jebi, I could tour around a bit.

I was in Dazaifu where I came across this more than 1,500 years old tree. It was a stunning scene to spot. And if we think about the tree in terms of human life, it was awe-inspiring. If a man has an average life of 80 years, this tree then has been living almost 20 lives. If 30 years is a generation (when people give birth to their children), this tree has witnessed 50 generations of human evolution.

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But what amazed me most was not having a tree this old, but how it was conserved. If you looked carefully at the branches at the top, you could see they were all mounted with some sort of protection. I was uplifted by the efforts the Japanese government made in conserving old trees. By protecting valuable trees, natural, historic and cultural treasures can be conserved. Cities with oldest trees should aspire for better preservation.


日本的古樹保育

最近去了日本九州,該地並未受到颱風飛燕強烈影響,讓我可遊玩一番。

我在太宰府時遇到這棵逾一千五百年歷史的古樹,實在蔚為奇觀。假設一個人能活到八十歲,這棵古樹已活了差不多二十個人的一生了,若三十年是一代的話(假設人們大概在這年紀生下下一代),這棵古樹已見證了五十代人的進步了,想想實在讓人嘖嘖稱奇。

但最讓我留下深刻印象的,並非一棵樹木能活上這個年紀,而是它的保育工作。如果你仔細看,會發現古樹頂部的樹枝護着保護物料,日本政府的樹木保育工作實在值得學習。透過保育珍貴的樹木,我們同時保護了大自然、歷史和文化瑰寶。需要進行古樹保育工作的城市應當仿效。

From the gas price in Chicago to real estate investment

This week I was in Chicago. It had been 24 years since the last time I visited the city in 1994. How time passed by! While the city may have gone through some changes, what drew my attention was the gas price.

The current gas price in Chicago was $3.37 per gallon. If compared to Hong Kong, it was not that bad. However when compared to my last visit here in 1994, it was high. In 1994, the gas price was about $1.11 per gallon. So it was like a 3 times increase! And I talked to a driver of Lyft, who was an immigrant from Brazil.  She said the current minimum wage in Chicago was $12 per hour. And the minimum wage in 1994 was $4.25. So it was almost a 3 times increase as well. Talk about inflation!

And I started thinking whether investing in real estate was a good hedge against inflation. According to the United States Census Bureau, the median and average sales prices of new homes sold in the United States in July this year are $328,700 and $394,300 respectively. During the same period in 1994, the median and average sales prices were $124,400 and $144,400. The increases are 2.64 times for the median sales price and 2.73 times for the average one. It seems like the housing has been catching up with inflation. Maybe investing in real estate is a safe choice to safeguard one against inflation.

References:

  1. Chicago gas price 1994:
  2. Chicago minimum wage: 1994 and 2018
  3. Median and Average Sales Prices of New Homes Sold in United States (historical data)

從芝加哥的汽油價格到房地產投資

時光飛逝,上一次到芝加哥已是一九九四年,時隔二十四年再訪,城市亦經歷了一些變遷,但讓我特別留意的卻是這裏的汽油價格。

芝加哥現時的汽油價格是每加侖3.37美元,如果和香港相比並不算昂貴,但相較一九九四年的1.11美元則上升三倍。我和一個來福車(Lyft)司機傾天,她是來自巴西的新移民,她告訴我現時芝加哥的最低工資是每小時12美元,而一九九四年的最低工資是4.25美元,同樣是接近三倍的升幅,通脹實在驚人。

這讓我想到投資房地產的抗通脹作用。根據美國人口普查局的統計,今年七月美國的新房銷售中位數價格和平均銷售價格分別為328,700美元和394,300美元,而一九九四年同時段的新房銷售中位數價格和平均銷售價格則為124,400美元和144,400美元,分別上漲2.64倍和2.73倍,近貼通脹數字。看來投資房地產可以是抗通脹的一個不錯的選擇。

 

Life in face of unpredictable climate events

Merely two months ago in July a catastrophic rainstorm broke out in Western Japan, causing many casualties, and I reflected on a city’s resilience against such extreme climate events. Last week Japan was again struck by two devastating hazards, the supertyphoon Jebi and the deadly earthquake in Hokkaido.

Jebi has been the worst typhoon striking Japan in 25 years, leaving so far 11 dead and causing imponderable economic damage, particularly to tourism. Osaka and neighbouring cities bore the brunt of the storm and the Kansai airport was closed indefinitely because of the flood. Just the same week Hokkaido experienced a 6.7-magnitude earthquake, which killed 44 and cut energy access to 5.3 million residents on the island.

The typhoon and earthquake struck Japan unpredictably, leaving residents suffering and tourists stranded in Osaka. Despite the innovative technologies we have at hand, we cannot predict all climate events and natural hazards. And when one breaks out, we are caught off guard, just like this time. And life is just as unpredictable. We never know what life has in store for us. So we should live in the moment, and enjoy.


天災難料 生命無常

今年七月,日本西部暴雨肆虐,造成大量傷亡,使我反思到城市建設在抵禦極端天氣上的重要性,不足兩個月,颱風「飛燕」襲日,北海道亦發生強烈地震,天災接二連三,帶來災難性傷亡。

「飛燕」是日本近二十五來最強勁的颱風,共造成十一人死亡。其中大阪和鄰近城市為重災區,關西機場亦因水浸不知何時重開,為日本經濟特別是旅遊業帶來難以估算的損失。同一星期,北海道經歷6.7級地震,共四十四人罹難,地震同時導致停電,受影響人數達五百三十萬。

颱風和地震毫無預警來襲,不僅使居民受苦,旅客亦滯留機場,受影響人不計其數。即使我們擁有多麼先進的科研和技術,亦不能準確預測自然災害,一旦災難性氣候事件爆發,我們又會像這次般被殺個措手不及,但後果可能更不堪想象。天災難料,生命無常,我們難以預計生命為我們準備了甚麼,因此此刻更應活在當下,享受生命。