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The Ugly Isle

When the Portuguese discovered Taiwan they called it Formosa – the beautiful isle. While vestiges of that beauty remain if Taiwan were discovered today it might well be called “The Ugly Isle”. Taiwan’s economic miracle has come at a huge ecological cost.

The recently released Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) ranked Taiwan 145th out of 146 countries. Only North Korea was ranked lower than Taiwan[1,2].

It is hardly surprising and any visitor to Taiwan could see why. More seriously it raises serious questions about Taiwan’s future. Is Taiwan caught in a downward spiral that it can’t get out of? Taiwan’s government policy is so focused on economic (read industrial) development that environmental issues are simply not a priority or at least don’t get the attention they deserve.

The construction of the fourth nuclear power plant is a case in point. Chen Shuibian was elected president in 2000 with a promise to halt construction of the fourth nuclear power plant. However, in the face of major political problems he reneged on the promise. What was most disturbing was that the government failed to make any significant efforts to develop alternative energy policies or to educate the people about the dangers of nuclear power.

During the 1980s when Taiwan’s era of martial law came to an end environmental concerns were at the top of the agenda in public protests[3]. However, now it seems there is little public protest about environmental issues despite the fact that things haven’t got any better.

While the people of Taiwan enjoy a high standard of living in most respects there must be serious questions about how long this can continue. Taiwan is heavily dependent on the importation of resources for energy and raw materials to sustain its economy. Despite this there has been negligible investment in either energy conservation or renewable energy generating capacity[4].

Climate change is an issue that has barely registered on Taiwan’s radar. The fact that Taiwan is excluded from participating in many international organisations might count for something. However, even if Taiwan had had the chance to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol one wonders if there would have been any significant efforts by the government to meet the emissions reduction targets. There seems to be a lack of basic public awareness about climate change.

There are few bright lights on the horizon for Taiwan. Perhaps Taiwan will serve as a canary in the coal mine and act as a wake up call showing the rest of the world the failures of industrial development. It would be much better if Taiwan could seriously embrace the need for ecologically sustainable development and lead the world forward to a cleaner, greener future.

References:

  1. Taiwan’s environmental sustainability seen low (Taiwan News 27 Jan. 2005)

  2. Environmental index puts Taiwan at bottom of the heap (Taipei Times 20 Feb. 2005)
  3. “The Environmental Nightmare of the Economic Miracle: Land Abuse and Land Struggles in Taiwan”
    Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, 1994, Vol. 26, No. 1-2, pp. 21-44.
    by Linda Gail Arrigo

  4. Energy and Sustainable Development in Taiwan
    Sustainable Energy Watch 2002 Report
    by Gloria Kuang-Jung Hsu

Comments

Comment from Someone
Time 6 November 2006 at 5:40 pm

Well, what do you prefer. Nuclear plants or coal power plants? Duhhh.

Comment from David Reid
Time 6 November 2006 at 8:59 pm

I wish you had bothered to attach your name to your comment. It would make you seem less like a troll.

My answer is neither. We need to totally rethink the way we generate and use energy. In the short term we can’t simply shut down the nuclear or coal power plants, but we must realise neither is satisfactory and start planning for a future where we don’t have to depend on them.

Comment from Dude
Time 18 March 2007 at 12:03 am

Good article! It’s funny how local news picks and chooses which reports to publish. I’m surprised Taipei Times chose that one (Environmental index puts Taiwan at bottom of the heap). I recently read (elsewhere) that Kaoshiung produces per capita more greenhouse gas than any other city in the world! I’m so tired of listening to the longtimers try to sugarcoat it – “You should have seen it 15 years ago, blah, blah, blah”. Anyone can see (and feel) immediately, stepping out of the train station in Kaoshiung, that it’s an unhealthy place. The problem is that Taiwanese (and probably all Chinese) care about one thing only – their own family fortunes. They won’t sacrifice one lousy dollar for the greater good of society. Taiwan deserves China.

Comment from David Reid
Time 18 March 2007 at 7:54 am

I agree that Taiwanese people are generally too obsessed with making money to think seriously about environmental issues. I don’t think it means Taiwan deserves China though.

Pingback from The confusing truth : Environment and Pollution in Taiwan and East-Asia | Fili's world
Time 28 May 2008 at 9:37 am

[...] David on Formosa : The Ugly Isle (yeah, I’m aware of the more recent articles as well) [...]