On Earth Day, it is time to reflect on why we cannot rest too much hope on government and civic organizations' activities revolving around the theme of "Mobilizing the Earth" -- such as opening green markets, cleaning the beaches, planting trees and turning off all lights for one hour -- to change the general public's lifestyle.
Since a United Nations' 1992 environmental conference in Brazil, Taiwan has worked in step with the rest of the world in an attempt to cut its carbon dioxide emissions and increase its green energy output.
Ironically, Taiwan's greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing annually at four times the world average, a clear indication that the government and civic groups' policy and measures have not been effective.
Over the past 20 years, Taiwan has held three national conferences on energy-saving strategies, designing a total of 35 programs with a budget of NT$130 billion. And yet the result is an increase, rather than a decrease, in carbon emissions that ranks Taiwan 17th in the world on a per capita basis.
One reason for this inglorious record is that all these 35 programs are not mandatory, and some of them are mere slogans -- such as "Creating a Low-Carbon Island" and "Environmental Diplomacy" -- which jag up rather than lower the nation's carbon dioxide emissions.
When experts look deep into the reasons for Taiwan's poor record in this regard, they find that a long string of folk festivals celebrated in Taiwan throughout the year, including the goddess Matsu's pilgrimage, the Yenshui "beehive firecrackers" festival and the burning of "king boats," are actually culprits for Taiwan's massive carbon emissions that have never been taken into account when the government formulates its carbon-cutting programs.
In many aspects of people's daily lives in Taiwan can also be found quite a number of reasons why carbon dioxide emissions will not be easily reduced. For example, one rarely goes to a restaurant that looks dim at night, because brilliant and shiny restaurants mean good business; some popular Chinese dishes are fried with hot burning fire; and even temples with strong and thick incense-burning attract people.
On top of these festivals and living habits, we see too many formal occasions where guests and participants wear formal suits and ties, making air conditioning a must, which adds to the nation's energy bills and carbon emissions.
The Taiwanese people seem to really care about and want to do something to alleviate global warming, as can be seen from many of their "green" activities and innovative ideas shown on Earth Day.
What we should do is identify which habits in our life are "high emitting" factors that have long been neglected.
Only when we have adjusted our lifestyles in accordance with the new findings from our cultural habits will we be able to find a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions that is compatible with our traditional culture. (Editorial abstract -- April 22, 2012)
(By S.C. Chang)