Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Where are our environmentalists?

Former US vice president Al Gore got the seven continents of the world rocking to the sound of nine Live Earth concerts on Saturday as he tried to hammer home the message that the world is facing a serious threat from global warming.

Pushing aside criticism of the concerts and that performing artists and politicians are among the least qualified to lecture the masses on responsible living and the use of resources, the concerts have at least helped to keep global warming at the top of the agenda and will hopefully remind the public and politicians about what is needed -- urgent and drastic action to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.

By now, a majority of people should have basic knowledge of the facts, know about the issues and be aware of ways they can contribute by cutting back on their own carbon footprint.

But among the melting glaciers, the severe weather episodes, the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap and polar bears and other symptoms of global warming, one of the most dangerous effects -- and one that is often overlooked -- is the prospect of a major increase in insect-borne diseases.

As global temperatures rise the temperate zone around the center of the earth will expand north and south, making areas previously uninhabitable for disease-carrying insects livable.

With the encroachment of these insects the instances of life-threatening illnesses like malaria and dengue fever will increase.

Standing astride the Tropic of Cancer, this is something that Taiwan should be concerned about.

Taiwan had island-wide epidemics of dengue fever in 1915, 1931 and 1942. The infection then disappeared before reappearing in the early 1980s. This year, the first indigenous case has already come to light a couple of months earlier than usual.

With global temperatures on the rise, we can expect instances of dengue fever to increase; we may even see the return of previously eradicated diseases like malaria. This threat should not be taken lightly and the advent of global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects on the nation calls for leadership of the highest caliber.

Unfortunately, this leadership is sadly lacking.

It is difficult to recall the last time we heard a prominent politician from either side of the political divide talk about the dangers posed by global warming and the need for Taiwan to take a leading role in fighting it.

Instead, all we hear is the endless mantra of "development" -- and anything that conflicts with it is not important. This mindset is one of the reasons Taiwan's emissions have doubled since 1990, the year of the Kyoto Protocol, and why most politicians stay silent on this issue.

Taiwan, with its legions of talented scientists, engineers, designers and manufacturing expertise, should be at the cutting edge of the technological fight against global warming, but instead it remains stalled on the starting blocks. Those concerned about the environment should be asking why such an important issue is off the radar.

In democracies, politicians respond to the concerns and demands of the public, so until the public wakes up and starts to take the threat of global warming seriously, nothing will change.

Last month, it was announced that Al Gore had canceled a speech in Taipei in September intended to raise awareness of global warming. Environmentally concerned Taiwanese should remember that creating awareness of this frightening problem does not require politicians and pop stars from the West. Perhaps a Live Earth-type concert in Taiwan would be a good start.

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