Proponents of economic development often say that pollution is a necessary evil. But how much evil is actually necessary and is it worth bearing this evil in exchange for the wealth gained?
Before Britain instituted its Alkali Act in 1863, soap manufacturers discharged hydrochloric acid waste gases directly into the air. This had the side effect of acidifying the surrounding lands, making agriculture impossible. This certainly cannot be a necessary evil.
In December 1952, London experienced a serious air pollution incident that came to be known as the "Great Smog." Afterwards it was calculated that about 12,000 people died as a result of the pollution. In the hardest hit areas, visibility was reduced to zero. Similar incidents also occurred in the 1940s and 1950s in New York and Pittsburgh in the US and in Belgium.
If these were all necessary evils, then European countries and the US would be prepared to tolerate these kinds of situations being repeated. Clearly, the high levels of pollution in the past were not necessary evils. Development causes far greater damage to society than the good that results from increased tax revenues. Countries that experienced ecological disasters in the past generally have stricter environmental standards than Taiwan. Yet they are still searching for ways to reduce pollution because their current levels of contamination are deemeed unacceptable.
Most people understand that reducing pollution will increase costs for manufacturers, but they rarely consider why unused raw materials and unusable byproducts of the manufacturing process become waste. Quite simply, in the absence of legal prohibition, the cheapest and easiest method of dealing with waste materials is to discard them.
It does not concern manufacturers that these waste materials will pollute the environment and affect plants, animals and humans because they are intent on saving money.
However, at some point this waste material has to be cleaned up, even if those who are responsible for its creation are unwilling to do so. Who should be responsible for this? If the quantity of waste is small, nature may be able to eliminate it by itself. But if the quantity of waste is large, this may take a very long time. In the meantime, those living in the polluted area will have to bear the burden.
The sad fact is that it easy to create waste, but far more difficult to clean it up. And very often, it is impossible to restore an area to its original condition. Isn't it possible for this situation to be avoided? If manufacturers could, by spending the cost of one extra unit, save society thousands of times that cost in future cleanup charges, wouldn't this be worthwhile?
In recent years, Taiwan's economic growth has slowed significantly compared to two or three decades ago. The gap between rich and poor is widening and unemployment is on the rise. The government lacks confidence and, in its fear, it has started to embrace the financial and economic strategies of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the hope of recreating the past economic "miracle." It also does all it can to remove any obstacles to major development projects with the potential to show quick economic results without trying to gain an understanding of whether such projects will be detrimental or beneficial to the nation.
Will the increase in tax income balance out the social cost of attracting investment? The Statute for Upgrading Industries (
Major development projects have an impact on agricultural, fishery and livestock industries. The losses sustained by these industries and the impact on public health have to be borne by society. If major development projects only benefit enterprises and a small minority of people, should the government continue to promote these projects against all odds?
New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-ming (
Taiwan is a small, densely populated country with limited natural resources. We should take a good look at our strengths and weaknesses and put natural resources to their most effective use, rather than trying to use mass production to compete with countries whose land and labor forces are larger than our own. The misuse of resources now will have a lasting effect on future generations. This can only lead to a situation where the nation suffers in the long run.
Gloria Hsu is a member of the Environmental Impact Review Committee of the Environmental Protection Administration and chairwoman of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union.
Translated by Marc Langer and Lin Ya-ti
China has long sought shortcuts to developing semiconductor technologies and local supply chains by poaching engineers and experts from Taiwan and other nations. It is also suspected of stealing trade secrets from Taiwanese and US firms to fulfill its ambition of becoming a major player in the global semiconductor industry in the next decade. However, it takes more than just money and talent to build a semiconductor supply chain like the one which Taiwan and the US started to cultivate more than 30 years ago. Amid rising trade and technology tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, Beijing has become
With a new White House document in May — the “Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” — the administration of US President Donald Trump has firmly set its hyper-competitive line to tackle geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry, followed by several reinforcing speeches by Trump and other Cabinet-level officials. By identifying China as a near-equal rival, the strategy resonates well with the bipartisan consensus on China in today’s severely divided US. In the face of China’s rapidly growing aggression, the move is long overdue, yet relevant for the maintenance of the international “status quo.” The strategy seems to herald a new
To say that this year has been eventful for China and the rest of the world would be something of an understatement. First, the US-China trade dispute, already simmering for two years, reached a boiling point as Washington tightened the noose around China’s economy. Second, China unleashed the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, wreaking havoc on an unimaginable scale and turning the People’s Republic of China into a common target of international scorn. Faced with a mounting crisis at home, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) rashly decided to ratchet up military tensions with neighboring countries in a misguided attempt to divert the
Toward the end of former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) final term in office, there was much talk about his legacy. Ma himself would likely prefer history books to enshrine his achievements in reducing cross-strait tensions. He might see his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015 as the high point. However, given his statements in the past few months, he might be remembered more for contributing to the breakup of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). We are still talking about Ma and his legacy because it is inextricably tied to the so-called “1992 consensus” as the bedrock of his