Preliminary data show that Hong Kong’s poor suffer increased exposure to air pollution. People in lower-class areas may be up to five times as likely to be hospitalized for respiratory illness as their counterparts in high-income areas. In addition, variation in household income may explain up to 60% of Air Pollution Index (API) variation between districts. Despite this, air pollution has not been seen as a class issue because of the invisibility of Hong Kong’s poor, the nature of environmental activism, and a relative lack of class tensions.

Two of Asia’s most significant trends are deepening income inequality and increasing environmental degradation. Yet, these two trends are often examined separately, as parts of entirely different spheres. Using air pollution in Hong Kong as a case study, this article argues that environmental issues and social class are intimately intertwined. Environmental burdens, such as air pollution, disproportionately affect the poor. Social class—who is generating pollution and who is affected—also determines how environmental issues are perceived and addressed. However, little combined analysis of social class and the environment exists outside the United States. Hong Kong’s struggle to improve air quality in the post-handover period provides an unusual opportunity to examine the relationship between social class and the environment in Asia.

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