The Society of Wilderness called on the public to participate in Lights Out Day on June 22 to decrease carbon dioxide emissions. The main objective of the day, however, was not to decrease emissions but to raise public awareness of environmental issues.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a hot media topic. Research by the Global Reporting Initiative show that the key to this development is the financial world's move to include companies' environmental issues in their criteria for investment risk assessment. A look at the figures in Taiwan show that there is still a gap between companies' CSR evaluations and risk assessment values.
Companies with good CSR evaluations participated in Lights Out Day. I believe companies that contribute to environmental protection are worth applauding. But if the environment is turned into a marketing tool, companies must be on their guard to make sure it doesn't backfire.
I remember a certain big international car manufacturer which contributed to an environmental protection award. A few years later, however, one of its TV commercials featured a sports utility vehicle driving through mountain forests and rivers, giving a very bad example that drew a lot of criticism.
The root of the greenhouse gas emissions problem is very clear -- industry. The government has been subject to a lot of criticism for giving industries such as steel and oil special deals on electricity.
So why didn't the steel, oil, semiconductor and other industries join other companies in participating in Lights Out Day?
The answer is that these industries need to run at full capacity day and night. These businesses can't really afford to turn off their lights -- let alone their machine. Yet it is these industries that are some of the biggest contributors to the nation's greenhouse gases.
Put simply, Lights Out Day was forced to focus on simple livelihood issues and some buildings that didn't really need those lights anyway. However, it failed to target the environmental issues that are connected to industrial production.
Looking at the problem from a national angle, in 1990, Taiwan's carbon dioxide emission was 0.5 percent of the world's total.
Fifty-five percent of the nation's emissions came from industries, only 10 percent from commerce and individuals.
Last year the OECD published a list of countries with the highest carbon dioxide emissions. Topping the list was the US, followed by Japan, Germany, Canada and the UK. Among these countries, the US emitted 5,728.5 million tonnes, accounting for 45 percent of the emissions of all the OECD countries, or five times that of Japan and seven times that of Germany.
As to averages, in the OECD countries every person on average emitted 11.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Taiwan's average was 12 tonnes, ranking No. 20.
A survey by the International Energy Agency also showed that the global average of carbon dioxide emissions per person last year was 4 tonnes. Taiwan hopes to do better than other developing countries on the list and has sought to catch up internationally through clean manufacturing, carbon trading and broad implementation of ways to reduce emissions recommended by the Kyoto Protocol.
To do so, Taiwan must improve the overall analysis of its strong and weak points, in particular in the context of science park and development. It should also seek and define a clear and feasible position in the international clean production mechanisms and create a model for sustainable urban and rural environment.
The objective of Lights Out Day should not be changed, but it could be improved on. By the same token, I don't fully agree with the point of view of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but I do see the educational value in marketing environmental issues.
Even Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour, which will hit theaters this fall, features interviews with academics who started the discussion about the global warming crisis. I applaud former US vice president Al Gore and DiCaprio, who use their political influence and celebrity status to make movies about the environment.
While turning off the lights of big buildings for Lights Out Day may not be a great idea, what matters most is that individuals or companies that participate in such activities should follow through in their concern for the environment. Individuals and companies alike should do theirbest to make the world a better place in many different areas and on different levels. That is the best "lights out" action.
Chung Kuo-Hui is a doctoral student at National Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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