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U.S. candidates could learn from Taiwan's environment policies

U.S. candidates could learn from Taiwan's environment policies

As one inhales the fresh air in this island's many nature reserves and parks, it is hard to imagine that the environment looms as a major concern.
But, then, before the widespread global realization that the era of climate change was upon us, most people around the world - except those with early insight - downplayed any serious danger.
Such a cavalier attitude has no place in today's discussions. Thus, I am encouraged that both Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican standard-bearer John McCain have vowed to lead the United States in a refreshing direction to deal with environmental and climate-change worries.
As they express and sharpen their arguments in the final weeks before the election, they could take a hint from the Taiwan attitude.
Here, people readily acknowledge environmental issues such as air pollution, water contamination and raw sewage.
Considering the island's economic miracle and rapid population growth, it would be surprising if such problems were not prevalent.
The critical question, though, is what to do about them. Fortunately, during my travels, observations and conversations, I have been struck by an infectious enthusiasm about proactively tending to the environment.
In daily life, it is impossible to ignore the omnipresent recycling bins; hotels with warm hallways, room utilities that shut off when a guest is out and sheet-changing only upon request; a proliferation of bicycles, not just in response to high fuel prices and a slowing economy but because of a growing interest in reducing air pollution and protecting the environment - the list goes on.
Leading by example
Equally obvious are the efforts being made at the top of the political system. Some have been around for a while.
For example, Taiwan supports the guidelines of key global conventions on the environment, even though it cannot actually sign those accords due to its political status.
Also, the central government's Environmental Protection Administration has agreements with various cities and counties, including this one (visit http://www.tyepb.gov.tw/eng/index.php), in support of environmental-protection bureaus.
New developments inspired by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou are taking awareness to an even-higher level.
One of Ma's first initiatives was to begin promoting a culture of saving energy, with goals such as reducing carbon emissions, lowering power consumption and limiting water use.
In his presidential office, Ma has ordered symbolic and practical steps, such as setting thermostats higher, easing the requirement that male staffers wear suit jackets (except at formal functions) and restricting the use of presidential aircraft.
In addition, it is worth noting that Ma himself has a reputation for frugality, avoids wasting food, and routinely insists that lights and appliances be turned off before exiting a room.
Of course, Taiwan has a long way to go, as does the rest of the world. By urging a society-wide environmental consciousness, though, it is poised to make a difference.
Meanwhile, a similar consciousness belongs at the top of the global agenda.
If we fail to resolve or at least ameliorate pressing problems, particularly excessive emissions, we will hasten the trauma and turmoil of wild weather and rising temperatures that many people have already suffered.
As well, we can expect severe coastal flooding, more droughts, mass starvation, the extinction of various species, disruptive human migration and plagues galore.
And that will not be the end of it.
The potential exists for a vast array of tensions stemming from climate change-related conflicts, uprisings, ethnic clashes, state meltdowns and civil violence. Some analysts foresee what they are calling World War V - that's counting the Cold War as III and the current War Against Terrorism as IV.
To avoid the worst-case scenario, Taiwan, the United States and other players must collectively reduce emissions in a significant manner, improve efficiency and expand the development of renewable energy sources.
By so doing, they would give fresh air - and faith in the world's future - a significant boost.
John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida. Readers may send him e-mail at johncbersia@msn.com.


Updated : 2021-02-28 12:05 GMT+08:00