Mon, Dec 21, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Rewriting the almanac impossible

By Chi Hsin 齊心

The Copenhagen climate summit had people focused on a range of issues, at least for thetime being. Global warming, energy conservation and the reduction of carbon emissions are being debated throughout the world. Public debates such as this, however, are often nothing more than opportunities for people to demonstrate how concerned they are and then to come out with some frivolous critiques or recommendations. The fact is that the vast majority of people don’t comprehend the ecological issues involved, or if they do, it is at best a rather superficial understanding.

Many countries in the world follow a farmer’s almanac. People in Taiwan use this to tell them not only which days they should carry out certain actions, but also dates important for agriculture, such as the correct time to plant and harvest crops. The ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius wrote: “If the agricultural seasons are followed, there will be more than enough food to go around.”

There is a lot of ecological wisdom in this.

In his “Governing the Nation: a Weekly Journal” on Dec. 12th, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) warned if we do not do more to save energy and cut carbon emissions, we will have to rewrite the farmer’s almanac. This is a definite possibility. Rewriting the calendar is, however, a “mission impossible” for ecologists.

Different organisms require different “effective thermal summation” to complete their development or flower properly. People count their lifespans in years and it is difficult to see the impact of climate change on the human population in a few short years. Many insects, on the other hand, measure their lifespans in days, and their growth and development is significantly impacted by changes in temperature. Warming may well result in an earlier appearance of agricultural pests and dengue-fever-bearing mosquitoes. We could also see an exponential increase in their numbers.

During an economic recession it is natural for us to try to conserve energy and reduce waste. Waste is still all too common, however, and one of the biggest offenders in Taiwan is the government. Laws may be effective in combating corruption, but they do little to stop waste. The major universities also play their part, with their penchant for holding seminars. These seminars are black holes for the public purse. All the money goes into PR and entertainment, and all they achieve is to come up with the same tired conclusions.

In 1998, the German artist Thomas Jacobi held an exhibition at the German Cultural Center in Taipei. In this exhibition was a painting entitled Landscape of Wealth: the Passion and the Fortune, a reflection on the situation in Taiwan. The painting depicted a Taiwanese farmer, wearing a straw hat, ostensibly looking at a chart of stock prices, but actually looking at a parched paddy field. What a shame that more people don’t seem to be concerned about superficiality and waste.

So many ecological problems today are a direct result of the global population explosion and the subsequent exploitation and waste of natural resources. Fishermen in poverty stricken areas around the world make a living by dynamite fishing, using explosives to kill or stun fish. Fishing companies in affluent countries use advanced fishing equipment and mass fishing techniques, chasing vast commercial profits. The developing and developed countries at the climate summit were vying with each other, closing ranks along the lines of who created the problems and who has what vested interest.

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