Letters: Ma misses green point


Sun, Aug 26, 2007 - Page 8

Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) recent statements about helping Taiwan meet Kyoto Protocol standards on per capita emissions could illustrate how politicians sometimes offer environmental policies that treat symptoms but not causes. Ma stated that forestation was the best solution to meet the standards and that "unless we change our ecological environment on a large scale we will fail in that goal"(sic).

It is ironic that Ma suggests changing something as immeasurably complex as an ecological system rather than changing something much more fundamental -- consumption, for example.

It is precisely the damage wrought from large-scale changes to the ecological environment over the last fifty years -- ones that were poorly thought out, short-term and profit orientated -- that have led to the current necessity for politicians to address the issue. It is the rapid industrialization and increasing population of Taiwan in a deregulated environment that has resulted in this country holding the dubious record of being the third highest emitter of greenhouse gas in 2005.

Pollution arises from wastefulness and a lack of planning, not a lack of trees and forestation is a strategy that, in addition to it's rather un-measurable benefits, does not address the systemic and institutionalized causes of pollution.

Ma's policy suggestion seems at best cosmetic and at worst a cynical appropriation of the environmental narrative for electoral gain. It could also be judged as a piecemeal and expensive way to earn a green merit whilst avoiding proposals that might have a negative economic impact. Yet the economy is where significant change has to be made in order for Taiwan not only to meet the Kyoto targets but also the most important long-term goal: maintaining a sustainable place for healthy life.

Taiwan's size and the advanced nature of it's high-tech research and development provides it with an opportunity to become a test bed for the staggered implementation of a green economic re-evolution. In practice that would mean a change of economic ideology, realigning the operating principle of the entire country -- not just businesses -- from "grow fast and profit" to "profit after sustainability."

Government would, where possible, need to offer substantial and meaningful incentives to Green Industries that are independently verified as "carbon-neutral," involved in recycling or cleaning and those examining and creating new clean forms of energy production. These companies and their expertise must become the core of the economy.

Business would need the government to lead the way and motivate them to change financially and through subtle yet effective corrections that don't just financially penalize offenders but begin a chain of dialogue and mandatory change as part of the sentence, like an Industrial Rehab for repeat polluters.

Planting trees sounds nice and will help in a very limited way but it is neither a policy of depth nor of imagination. The Taiwanese people need to ask their presidential candidates for more information and concrete, detailed and well planned policies or they may find themselves led by a blinkered and beholden administration that manages in the short term rather than governs in the long.

Ben Goren