Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Oil, gas and lots of hot air

Rising global oil prices have brought the issues of domestic gasoline prices and energy conservation firmly into the political spotlight this week.

Some rather foolish comments from Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆) were the catalyst. During a session of the legislature's Economics and Energy Committee on Monday, he advised people with big cars to consider changing to a smaller one in light of rising gas prices, before saying he considered his own car -- a 3-liter Toyota Camry -- a "compact car."

Opposition lawmakers, of course, then had a field day, revealing the gas-guzzling nature of the cars used by many top government officials.

But while Chen and his fellow Cabinet members deserved the criticism, it is doubtful that any of the opposition legislators who kicked up the fuss could honestly say that they take the MRT to the legislature or drive around in a Nissan March.

Reckless consumption of natural resources is an outrage that almost everyone in Taiwan -- both businesses and individuals -- is guilty of. This is why per capita carbon-dioxide emissions in the nation are the third-highest in the world and three times the global average.

This is a result of decades of unchecked industrial development, as well as vastly under-priced gasoline, gas and electricity.

But rising prices are a global problem, and not the fault of the government.

Oil is a finite natural resource that is in great demand and, as existing stocks are being exhausted faster than new ones come online, the price of oil is only going to keep rising.

Prices hit US$96 yesterday and it is highly unlikely that prices will ever return to the US$20 per barrel average of the 1980s and 1990s. It cannot be long before the price breaks three figures.

The opposition has proposed a price freeze until the end of the year, but that will only make things more complicated if oil prices keep rising. A freeze will just serve to shelter the public from reality and encourage them to keep up their wasteful habits.

High prices may help people economize in the short term, but education on ways to reduce consumption is a far more effective long-term approach. But for this kind of campaign to be effective, the nation's politicians must lead by example. Something they have so far failed to do.

Considering the dire warnings that have been emanating from the scientific community about the severity of global warming and the catastrophes it is likely to bring to island nations like Taiwan, one would think tackling consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be a top priority for lawmakers across the political spectrum.

Unfortunately this is not the case.

Because while the government is certainly not doing enough to reduce the nation's dependence on imported fossil fuels, the opposition -- with its promises of more breakneck development -- doesn't seem capable of tackling the problem either.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if the nation's two main political blocs could, for once, put aside their petty squabbling and focus their efforts on coming up with an effective plan to tackle these important issues?

A scheme that would ensure continued prosperity while reducing gas emissions and irresponsible consumption of natural resources is a necessity, not an option.

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