Sun, Sep 03, 2017 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: The politics of environmentalism

As the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) second Asia Democracy Forum meets this weekend one might ask: “Is access to a clean environment a democratic right?” If so, who is responsible for protecting the environment and for implementing environmentally sustainable policies?

In a nation with an elected government, the government arguably represents the public’s interests and will therefore enact policies to protect those interests. The problem is that people are often driven by short-term gain, and the government tends to promote economic interests at the expense of environmental sustainability. This is particularly true when political campaigns are funded by big corporations that expect to see their financial interests protected while the administration they support is in office.

This is evident when large business ventures get green-lighted by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) despite concerns from activists, while smaller, less lucrative projects are often met with delays as the government calls for additional environmental impact assessments.

Lynn MacDonald, professor emerita at Canada’s University of Guelph, said the problem lies in the fact that “governments are held accountable only in the here and now, a paltry four years, while the damage we do is long-term.”

She said the governments’ failure to act on warnings about environmental degradation — for example the Kyoto Protocol — is evidence that current political systems are not up to the task of balancing public interest with environmental protection.

Governments tend to act in ways that foster their longevity in power, while individual leaders tend to want to leave office with a legacy of public admiration.

These tendencies must be challenged if we are to ensure the long-term sustainability of Taiwan’s economy and environment. Governments must more aggressively promote environmentally conscious behavior among businesses and the public through legislation — with, for example, an outright ban on plastic bags and disposable containers, as well as a reduction in and eventual elimination of the use of fossil fuels — even if these policies make them unpopular in the short term.

This means that opposition parties must also act more cooperatively, rather than promising to reverse unpopular legislation should they take office.

Former US Environmental Protection Agency consultant Susan Hazen said that participation in environmental decisionmaking is as important as education, healthcare and other aspects of daily life for those whose daily lives reflect the quality of their environment. Daily environmental practices are inextricably linked to quality of life, and therefore it is in the public’s interest to participate in decisions that ultimately affect their environment.

However, this is only possible if the public has governmental support, as well as adequate access to the information they need to make informed decisions.

“Informed with basic facts about the quality of their environment, citizens can become active participants in identifying and resolving issues at both local and national levels,” Hazen said.

The polluting of Houjin River in Kaohsiung on Oct. 1, 2013, when Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc’s K7 factory was found to have discharged highly acidic effluent containing nickel into the river is evidence of the dangers that can occur when the public is inadequately informed.

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