Rising fuel prices are causing global concern and some panic. Taiwan’s new government is going to get serious about energy savings and carbon-emission reductions with officials in the Presidential Office setting an example by swapping their big limos for smaller cars. The Cabinet is going to follow suit.
But driving smaller cars is only a small step. The government should review its mechanism for replacing officials’ cars so that future purchases will be based on environmental standards and real needs. Not to do so would be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.
The legislature’s Budgetary Research Center has repeatedly suggested that the heads of government institutions set a good example by making low carbon emissions their priority when purchasing new cars. However, this suggestion has largely fallen on deaf ears and legislative officials have not been good role models.
For example, when former deputy speaker Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) took office, he was provided with an official car with a 4.6 liter engine. Amid strong public criticism, he exchanged it for a smaller car. The government considered selling Tseng’s first car, but decided against it because it would lose NT$1 million on the deal. In the end, the car was left in a garage. What a waste of money.
But trading down is not a solution. Complementary measures for cars powered by alternative fuels would make energy-saving policies even more effective. Although people know that altering their cars to use natural gas rather than gasoline will save them money, only a few are willing to do so because government subsidies are insufficient and the gasoline companies are unwilling to invest in natural gas filling stations.
Hybrid cars that use gas and electricity, or solar-powered cars, have yet to become common because solar batteries are expensive and aren’t efficient enough. Soaring oil prices, however, are providing a new incentive for developing economically efficient solar or hydrogen-powered cars. The government should offer tax incentives or subsidies to encourage industry or academic institutions to develop alternative energy sources for vehicles.
Biofuels are not the answer and neither are subsidies that encourage farmers to shift production to fuel crops. This has only helped boost agricultural prices, created inflationary pressures and hurt economically disadvantaged groups. Unless there are guaranties that food prices won’t increase, promoting biofuels will only create other problems.
However, in addition to government officials setting an example to encourage the public to start using public transportation, save energy and cut down on carbon emissions, real energy savings and carbon emission reductions also require the promotion of bicycles, which would have the added benefit of improving public health. To do so, however, the government must develop a convenient network of bicycle paths to avoid traffic chaos and improve safety.
In this regard, Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川), deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office, is setting a good example by riding his bicycle to work every morning.
The alarm bells are going off around the world on global warming and the energy crisis. People and national leaders in many countries are now promoting energy saving and carbon emission reductions. Taiwan must follow suit and the government should take the lead.