There have been many media reports about how the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, the US, announced its carbon reduction goals before US President Barack Obama leaves for Copenhagen to take part in the UN Climate Change Conference at the end of this week.
What Taiwan desperately needs, however, is more in-depth analysis and reflection of global warming than can be offered in media reports.
Global warming has not only caused the earth’s temperature to rise, it has also caused various negative environmental effects like extreme climate change, ecosystem imbalance, rising sea levels, salinization of coastal areas, the destruction of water resources and decreased grain production. It has even had a negative impact on human health. Floods, typhoons, hurricanes, droughts and higher temperatures have resulted in physical injuries and even deaths.
The increased spread of various types of microorganisms and bacteria have caused a higher incidence of food poisoning and water contamination; changes in the relationships between the host, the vehicles for germs and pathogens have given birth to new and reoccurring infectious diseases such as dengue fever, swine flu, schistosoma — otherwise known as blood-flukes or snail fever — and malaria. An increase in the number of allergens has caused a rise in the number of people with allergies. Pollution of the air with noxious gases has increased the incidence of respiratory tract problems and various types of heart disease, while decreased production of grain has caused problems such as malnutrition, disease and starvation.
Global warming is mainly caused by the large amounts of fuel, natural gas and coal used by humankind and the destruction of forests. We use fossil fuels and destroy forests primarily to produce large quantities of commercial goods.
Therefore, the mass production of commercial goods and the mass consumption and use of energy sources by people are the real causes of global warming. Why does mankind need to produce and buy such large amounts of products? In this article, I would like to analyze this problem from three levels — the general population, business and the state.
In terms of the general population, living standards improved greatly after the Industrial Revolution and people started purchasing mass-produced goods. They did so not only to satisfy their daily needs, but also to obtain luxury items, which led to consumption-driven lifestyles. To promote their products, businesses started filling every corner of society with advertisements, making it increasingly difficult to resist the temptation to purchase unnecessary luxury products. To spur economic growth, the government encouraged the general population to consume, while assisting businesses in the mass production of various products. These activities began the production of large amounts of greenhouse gases, and it is greenhouse gases that are the principal culprit behind global warming.
Therefore, the best way to guard against global warming is to reflect upon and change the way we are influenced by capitalist ideology, which presupposes that businesses will seek profit, citizens will seek ever-increasing levels of consumption and nations will go after high levels of economic growth.
First of all, to make the public understand that the production of any product requires fossil fuels that result in the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases, we should educate and encourage them to reflect on their daily habits and think about how their actions are influenced by consumerist ideology.
In addition, we should criticize the way the government places economic growth above everything else. We should also pressure the government to change its behavior of encouraging companies to produce large volumes of commercial goods and blindly promoting economic growth.
So, is Taiwan prepared for global warming? No. We do not reflect on the mistakes we have made, nor do we take action to combat global warming as other nations have done. The lives of most Taiwanese are based on the aspiration to and an obsession with consuming large amounts of products. The government’s policy is also obviously centered on economic growth: To stimulate the economy, the government handed out consumer vouchers to each citizen last year. In addition, in an export-oriented economic system, industries produce products that are sold to other nations. This has polluted the environment and pumped atmosphere full of greenhouse gases. Mass consumption and production has seen Taiwan’s total emissions of carbon dioxide increase over the past three decades. In 2007, Taiwan was one of East Asia’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide per capita, South Asia’s biggest emitter and 18th in the world.
If capitalist societies do not change their mainstream social values of production, profit, consumption and economic growth, the problem of global warming will only get worse. Taiwan has to get involved in the international anti-global-warming movement. However, before this, Taiwanese desperately need to be introduced to and educated about global warming. Taiwanese people, industries and the government must get away from blindly pursuing consumption and eliminate misconceptions about economic growth. We need to care for the Earth, gain a deeper respect for the environment and take an active role in its protection.
Chen Meei-shia is the director of the Taiwan Association for the Promotion of Public Health and a professor of public health at National Cheng Kung University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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