The 41st World Environment Day (WED) is coming up on Tuesday, and with it the conclusion of another year’s “Earth Environment Season,” as designated by the Environmental Protection Administration. The season runs annually from Earth Day on April 22 to WED on June 5th. However, do we really need a season to remind us that we all need to do more and can do more to protect and conserve our environment?
Judging from the state of this nation — and the world — apparently we do.
The theme for this year’s WED is “Green economy: Does it include you?” which should have special resonance in this nation. The UN’s Environmental Program defines the “green economy” as one that results in “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” — in other words, an economy that is “low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.” This sounds like what many politicians have been after for years with their talk of reducing carbon emissions, making Taiwan more energy-efficient and preserving the nation’s unique ecosystem. It is time to turn that talk into action.
Some policy initiatives have been taken — some positive, others not so positive — such as encouraging both public and private companies to raise their thermostats in the warmer months to reduce electricity consumption and fining businesses that waste air-conditioning with open doorways. The electricity price hikes that begin this month and have drawn so much public protest will have the side-effect of encouraging people to be more energy-conscious and energy-saving. Also taking effect this month is a new regulation against leaving cars idling, which will help reduce carbon emissions. Earlier this year, regulations took effect to encourage consumers to bring their own thermoses or cups to beverage stores to reduce the amount of plastic and paper cups used.
All these little steps add up. However, we are a long way from becoming more energy-efficient as a nation, including investment in renewable, alternative energy sources. And we are still too much into the disposable consumer culture, with the craze to have the latest high-tech gadget even if our current one still works well.
Some of the changes needed are policy-driven and require government initiatives, but there is much the average person can do to become a greener consumer, as suggested by the WED theme, and it would not necessarily mean making big changes in our lives.
We can seek to reduce the climate footprint of our homes and offices, including turning off lights and unplugging appliances when they are not in use. We can help save forests by using electronic files and e-mail as much as possible to lower the demand for paper products, and by urging and lobbying the government to do more to protect the nation’s forests and mountainsides. We can help prevent overfishing by choosing sustainably harvested seafood (which automatically rules out shark fins). We can conserve water and use it wisely. We can choose public transportation over commuting by car or motorcycle; unfortunately commuting by bicycle cannot be recommended in Taipei for most people because it would do more to endanger their lives than improve their health. We can cut down on the amount of plastic bottles bought on a daily or weekly basis (and can bring our own cups more often to beverage shops).