Wed, Jun 06, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan threatened by myriad risks

By David Pendery

In his book, Collapse, Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at University of California, Los Angeles, examines a number of cultures, from ancient to modern, and how a number of these societies collapsed under various pressures, often ecological and environmental, and also because of political and economic tribulations.

Diamond’s main focus is on ecology and the environment, and how problems in these areas can result in social devastation. Most importantly, these difficulties stem from population growth and unsustainable agricultural practices, which often result in deforested areas, habitat destruction, soil problems, water management problems, excessive urbanization and overhunting and fishing. Ultimately, such practices result in food shortages, starvation, conflicts among groups and even overthrows of governments. Climate change also comes into play here.

Another area is hostile neighbors — a reality that Taiwan can certainly understand. Trade relations, often with friendly neighbors, also comes into play.

In the end, it is the local social and governmental response under different strains that will decide whether a society collapses.

“Institutions and values affect whether the society solves [or even tries to solve] its problems,” Diamond writes.

With this introduction, I am compelled to ask: Is Taiwan in any danger of imminent collapse? This might seem over-stated, for on the whole it seems unlikely that this modern republic, with its robust economy (a per capita GDP ranking of about 30th out of 187 countries, according to IMF statistics) and remarkable technological prowess would be in much danger.

Yes, global environmental threats are a concern — not the least climate change and rising ocean levels — but such threats do not seem looming.

However, there is more at work here, as not only storied ancient cultures, such as the Easter Island or Mayan peoples, but also modern cultures are in danger of bringing their own demise through unwise and untenable systems and processes.

Diamond examines several modern cultures that might be under threat from both environmental and social or political factors, including societies in Africa, the Caribbean, China and even the US and Australia.

Being a modern nation, with extensive help and technology networks for all people, might not ensure complete protection from a potential collapse.

So again: What is Taiwan’s situation?

Taiwan has faced a collapse-like situation in its politics and culture: It has lost four diplomatic allies in two years — Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe. Some people dismiss the developments as less than important, but this is not so.

What would be the case if Taiwan lost all of its diplomatic allies? Who would think that would be a favorable outcome? To be sure, it seems likely that something like this, or very near this, will one day eventuate in Taiwan, meaning the nation is faced with the “collapse” of its diplomatic unity and presence in the world.

Whether this would result in some greater social and political upheaval remains to be seen, but its severity cannot be dismissed. At worst, this could result in the overthrow of the government, with all of the disorder and turmoil it would bring. There is danger afoot, it seems.

The other major threat to Taiwan could be environmental changes and decline — at the very least this is a cause of concern for the nation. More than likely there might be internal problems resulting from environmental mismanagement, such as mishandling of farming, overdevelopment, and simply the exhaustion of the environment through pollution and waste.

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