Fig leaf environmentalism
The ongoing charade that is Taiwan’s environmental policy is there for all to see. This time, the much mooted anti-idling law is supposed to be the thing that will turn the tide and make Taiwan “green”: I am not sure whether to laugh or cry.
The government has finally outlawed drivers from allowing their vehicles to idle for more than three minutes (“Government idle in face of pollution”, June 4, page 8). Sure, every little bit helps — but only a little bit. I want to dispute the claim made in the editorial that “the new regulation is a positive step aimed at reducing carbon emissions.”
Anybody armed with basic high school physics understands that most energy is used to accelerate bodies. Less energy, but still a lot, is used to keep them moving at a constant speed. In comparison, idling uses up very little energy. Torch Pratt’s claim that “non-idling scooter commuters can cut their gas bills by 60 percent” is wishful thinking and most certainly not based on science (“Future bright for solar power,” Apr 20, page 8).
During a normal journey, killing your engine at every opportunity may shave a few percent off your fuel consumption, which is good, but it will not make much difference to air pollution. For example, the document Idling Gets You Nowhere by the Environmental Defense Fund estimates the savings to be 1 percent or less, which is supported by other Web sites (eg, http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/idling/10617), although in cities, savings may increase to a few percent (www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/atv.shtml). I challenge the government or Idle-Free Taipei to come up with a scientific study which shows significantly higher numbers.
The reason why the government is pursuing such laws and is handing “wads of cash” to projects like Idle-Free Taipei is that it is easy and painless. It is, in short, fig leaf environmentalism.
As the editorial correctly points out, a government which is really serious about environmental pollution would not dilly-dally with unenforceable laws which, even if actually enforced, would hardly make a difference.
Rather, such a government would tackle the major polluters and invest in measures which would really decarbonize Taiwan’s economy: massive investment in public transport; public transport subsidies; taxing fossil fuel consumption; investing heavily in energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal; using that energy to promote electric vehicles; refurbishing all houses in Taiwan with double-glazed windows and all the other energy-saving technologies which are available (see Taipei 101’s efforts); adopt strict building codes which ensure the highest energy efficiency for every new building; subsidize the decarbonizing of Taiwan’s high-energy industries and promote even more recycling.
This should all be backed up with measurable numbers instead of wishful thinking: At the moment, every Taiwanese emits an average of 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Make the goal 3.5 tonnes by 2020 and then actually do it.
With this risible anti-idling law, all the government has achieved is that it has finally lost its fig leaf and there is nothing behind the fig leaf but hot air.
The burden of proof
Penghu District Prosecutor Wu Hsun-Lung (吳巡龍) made a revealing remark during his protest in front of the Supreme Court (“Prosecutor begins one-man protest,” June 5). Protesting a Supreme Court resolution requiring prosecutors to shoulder 100 percent of the burden of proof, Wu says that he has not seen such a criminal procedure law anywhere else. Evidently, he slept through or skipped the class at Stanford Law School where it would have been explained that in the US, prosecutors bear 100 percent of the burden of proof.