Economy and Environment 經濟發展VS環保意識
These materials assess changing trends in the economy and the environment, and how they impact on the future.
In December this year, the South Pacific archipelago of Tokelau will be the first nation to be entirely powered by renewable energy: with the help of New Zealand, they are currently completing the installation of more than 4000 solar panels on the three atolls that constitute Tokelau territory. Last July, we had the chance to interview Tino Vitale, the representative of the Tokelau Delegation at the Festival of Pacific Arts held in the Solomon Islands: he told us about their project and a special song they perform to carry their plea.
The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami brought vast destruction to Japan. Captured on shaky camera-phone footage, images of the event, of the monumental floods sweeping away everyone and everything, are now burned forever in our collective consciousness. A nation at once underwater and ablaze. 125,000 buildings destroyed. Over 15000 people confirmed dead, over 8000 people still missing. It’s impossible to wrap your head around numbers as disturbing as these.
But what truly gripped the world in fear, what hit close to home even thousands of miles away, far from any fault lines, far from any shorelines, what shook everyone’s confidence to its core was the drama that unfolded before our eyes in the weeks that followed.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster changed forever the world’s relationship with nuclear energy. Over the course of several weeks, we looked on in abject horror as our worst fears played out. First one explosion; then another; then another. Uncontrollable fires. Hero workers trudging deep into the plant, donning awkward, heavy-duty, white and blue radiation suits, risking everything for the safety of a nation. Everywhere, tests revealing unsafe levels of contamination – vegetables, fish, milk, the very land itself. Evacuations ordered. Hourly bulletins about the safety of Tokyo’s tap water. Elevated radiation levels being detected as far away as the United States and Canada.
For many, Fukushima gave the most damning evidence yet that nuclear energy should no longer be considered an option. Now, environmentalists all over the world are cheering Germany’s decision to decommission all of its nuclear power plants by the year 2022. Switzerland now promises to follow Germany’s lead by 2034. Similar movements in other countries are gaining steam. The fear of nuclear energy is palpable these days and many would like to ride it for all it is worth.
Yes, it certainly is a lonely time for those in favor of nuclear energy. But I have to count myself as one amongst the few.
This isn’t an article about whether or not nuclear energy is safe. Quite frankly, nuclear energy isn’t safe, and it is my sincere hope that the disaster in Japan will give us a wake-up call to its dangers. But I don’t believe what happened there necessitates a worldwide moratorium on nuclear energy. In light of the world’s ever-growing appetite for energy, we need a careful, critical discussion of what our best options are moving forward from Fukushima. Crisis calls for measured action, not ham-fisted resolutions.
The future of our world depends on our choices, and only by asking the right questions can we make the right choices. Fukushima reminds us that the use of nuclear energy comes with a significant risk. So, the first question is: Should we give up nuclear energy because it isn’t safe? More specifically, without nuclear power, what are we left with? What will we do? Will we really begin to power the world with windmills and solar panels?
No, we will burn more coal; that’s what we will do.
This is because our appetite for energy now far outweighs our ability to generate it from clean sources. If you think it will play out any other way, please consider Germany. After the decision was made to shut down nuclear power, Germany’s politicians insisted that the nation would be going green from here on out, and their tough stance on nuclear energy won the praise of many. To quote Chancellor Angela Merkel: “We believe we as a country can be a trailblazer for a new age of renewable energy sources."
It sounds nice, it really does. But statements such as these do not paint a complete picture. The Breakthrough Institute think tank believes Germany will have to scale up its renewable energies to generate over 40% of the country’s energy in order to make up for the loss of nuclear energy – no easy task. Germany, for its part, obviously doesn’t think replacing nuclear with renewables is economically feasible. I say this because rather than pouring money and resources into renewables, Germany is pouring them into the construction of fossil fuel plants.
"If we want to quickly get out of nuclear power and into renewable energy, we need fossil-fuel power plants. There is no way around," says the Chancellor.
Philip Roesler, Germany’s economy minister, adds: "I think it is a very clever idea to build fossil-fuel plants on existing [nuclear] sites.”
For many, this is still good news. When people think of coal, apocalyptic visions of nuclear winters, radiation suits and mutated fish do not bubble up to the surface. Coal, despite its obvious setbacks, seems a safer choice than nuclear power in the popular mind. But this is precisely the notion I hope to challenge.
The second question is: If our choice in the short-term boils down to coal or nuclear, then which is better?
Much of the talk about nuclear energy is concerning what could happen. Few people are paying attention to what is happening, every day, because of coal burning. It is difficult to estimate how many people coal burning kills each year, but a good place to start looking is deaths caused by coal mining. In the United States, coal mining kills approximately 30 people per year. A staggering figure, to be sure. But in less developed nations, the number of deaths is much, much higher. In 2004, over 6000 coal miners lost their lives in China. To put this in context, only one man died at Fukushima, and he didn’t die of radiation sickness. He died of a heart-attack.
Many, of course, will point out that the danger from nuclear plants is far more insidious. Radiation takes time to kill, after all. This is absolutely true. But because it’s something we can see in the air, smell on the wind, and feel in our bodies, because we deal with it every day, because it simply doesn’t evoke the same gut-wrenching fear that radiation does, pollution from coal-burning does not get the press it deserves.
Most of us know about the dangers of global warming, and that coal burning is a huge component of it. In China, for instance, coal accounts for over 80% of CO2 emissions. In America, that figure is 40%. But few of us recognize the more tangible effects of coal burning on society. According to an estimate by University of Pittsburgh Physics Professor Bernard Cohen, a typical coal plant will lead to 25 premature deaths every year, in addition to some 60,000 respiratory illnesses. A 2006 study estimated that coal-burning shortens the lives of 400,000 people per year in China. A 2010 report by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit environmental group, found that pollution from coal-fired power plants will result in the early deaths of more than 13,000 Americans in 2011. An American Lung Association study showed that pollution from coal-burning prematurely kills 24,000 Americans every year, in addition to causing 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and 550,000 asthma attacks.
Different agencies will come up with different figures, but in every study the numbers are shocking. They tell us that air pollution, too, takes time to kill, and that it is killing many, many people. This is happening, today, right now, this very moment. Even worse, the cumulative effects of air pollution will be felt for many, many generations. In this way it is similar to radioactive fall-out – only it is not localized to a particular area.
Speaking of radiation, it may surprise you to know that coal burning releases a significant amount of it into our environment. This is because fossil fuel contains radioactive isotopes. The amount of radiation released from the burning of coal is not a trivial amount. A study found that in 1982, a typical American coal burning plant released 4.7 tonnes of uranium and 11.6 tonnes of thorium, for a total national release of 727 tonnes of uranium and 1788 tonnes of thorium. The total release of radioactivity from coal-fired fossil fuel in America was 97.3 TBq that year. This is 155 times greater than the total amount of radioactive material released by the Three Mile Island accident.
Still, the dangers of this huge quantity of additional radiation pale in comparison to the dangers of coal’s carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen oxide emissions. This is because the levels at which radiation is thought to cause serious health consequences are higher than you might think. For instance, it is generally believed that the Fukushima disaster, despite all the press it has generated, has so far caused no deaths or long term health effects due to radiation exposure. I want to say that again, because it may sound unbelievable in light of everything you have heard: there have so far been no deaths or long term health effects attributable to radiation from the Fukushima disaster.
How can this be? When it comes to radiation, numbers are deceiving. For instance, it can be said that the average Fukushima resident was exposed to 3600 times the normal level of background radiation people absorb in a day. It’s a mind-boggling figure.
But in order for such figures to have any real meaning, they need to be further contextualized. The annual dose at which an increase in the lifetime risk of cancer is evident is 100 millisieverts (mSv). A mammogram gives you 3 mSv. A CT scan gives you approximately 10mSv. The maximum yearly dose for United States radiation workers is 50mSv/year. Most experts believe that the average Fukushima resident was probably exposed to, at most, 30-40 mSv of radiation – the equivalent of smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes a day for a year.
The dangers of radiation are, nonetheless, very real. The Fukushima disaster is just that: a disaster. Many people were forced to evacuate, and it will be many years before the land surrounding the plant is safe to live on. Questions of food safety continue to pop up. And, despite all the comforting figures governments give about what constitutes a ‘safe’ dose, it would behoove us all to remain skeptical. There will no doubt be many studies into the long-term effects of the Fukushima disaster, and it is very possible we will discover that the long-term risks of low-doses of radiation are greater than we now suppose. But, this seems a fact of modern life: many things that enable the lifestyles we enjoy are not very good for us. Nuclear power is one of many.
Ultimately it comes down to this: Nuclear power is bad. But coal burning is worse. Therefore, wherever possible, we should seriously consider ridding ourselves of coal before nuclear.
What happened in Japan should force us to re-examine the relative risks and safety protocols at each and every nuclear power plant in the world. The incident exposed some serious concerns about the nature of the relationship between the nuclear industry and the regulatory committee that oversees it. Adjustments should be made, and some nuclear plants should probably be taken offline. But I believe these decisions should be taken on a case by case basis.
Still, there are those who argue that we cannot let the opportunity to end nuclear power now pass us by, that we must strike while the iron is hot. Their reasoning is as follows: Right now, the coal lobby remains as strong as ever, so taking it down would prove next to impossible. Nuclear energy, however, is reeling from the blow Fukushima dealt to its reputation as a safe energy source. Therefore, it follows that, like wolves chasing prey bigger than ourselves, we should pick off the weak and injured while we can and save the tougher battles for a time when we are better armed – with legitimate green energy alternatives. It pains me to admit it, but this might be true. It is all the more crucial, then, for us not to let Germany forget its promise to invest heavily in green energy. The whole world is watching this experiment; something good needs to come of it. The future energy policies of many nations hang in the balance.
But I won’t stand in line to pat Germany on the back. I remain skeptical of the true motivation behind its government’s decision, which seems the result of playing politics rather than any real concern for its people. And I also remain skeptical of the idea that informed, concerned citizens are incapable of making coal a target of their ire. If coal fails to terrify, if we have not yet imbued it with that same sense of epic horror shadowing every thought of nuclear power, it is only because of our collective ignorance of its very real, daily dangers.
The bottom line is that nuclear power and green energy investments should not be considered mutually exclusive. So for as long as coal is our only real alternative to nuclear power, I will remain a proponent of nuclear power. I may be a lonely idealist, but I think we can go after the bigger, stronger, more dangerous prey first.
(Painting by Bendu)
Nicolas Pagnier is a member of the Utopia office (http://www.mouvementutopia.org/). Following the Fukushima disaster in March and eRenlai's June Focus which looked in detail at the growing anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan, Nicolas feels concerned that governments and corporations in nuclear power will continue to operate business as usual. This article takes on the arguments of the pro-nuclear side one by one, before introducing the negaWatt scenario as a sustainable alternative, which would allow for an end to nuclear power in France (the most nuclear consuming country in the world) within 30 years. Article translated from French by Nick Coulson.
We all have to eat, but what exactly should we eat? There is a saying in Chinese - “we would rather eat expensive food than take cheap medicine”. In other words, eating good food prevents us from getting sick.
Taiwanese homemakers are well known for how smart they are. However, planning to prepare good and healthy food for the family is one thing, being able to buy food that is free of toxic chemicals from a traditional market, supermarket or the internet is another. For all you homemakers out there who are caring, family-loving, smart and virtuous - are you sure the foods you buy for your family are non-toxic and healthy? In fact, the only thing you can be 100% sure of is that there are labels and instructions on the packages. The Homemaker’s Union and Foundation in Taiwan recently did some random checking on the concentration of nitrate in vegetables and discovered that they exceeded the standards of the European Union. The Council of Agriculture in Taiwan admitted that there is no relevant standard concerning the nitrate concentration in vegetables sold in Taiwan.
Can we really trust the current food standards in Taiwan? Taiwan has the highest rate of uremia sufferers in the world and there are way too many books on the market about detoxification therapy and the increasing number of people with skin allergies. Instead of pointing the finger at our homemakers, we should look to the producers, farms and rice fields. In fact, pesticide use in Taiwan was once the highest in the world.
Working together to make a military fort environmentally friendly
Coming out the number 2 exit in Tucheng MRT station and across Jincheng Road, we follow the leisure farm signs to see a military look-out post which was once an ammunition depot. Walking past the lookout-post, there are many warning signs declaring “for military use only”. Having crossed the culvert of the freeway, the scenery of the three surrounding tree-clad mountains emerges. It feels amazing and surreal to know that it is only a five minute walk back to Tucheng MRT station!
Xian-Hui Qiu is the owner of the “Hui-Yao Toxic-Free Vegetable Garden”
“I was an air conditioning maintenance man before becoming an organic vegetable farmer 4 years ago. The government was going to buy the farmlands here from us so they could transform the military ammunition depot into the second detention centre. My family has been farming here for many generations and then the government has ordered us to desert these farmlands inherited to us from our ancestors. Of course we refused the government’s offer. This is why the ‘Tucheng Environmental Guarding Association’ was formed, to make a stand against the government in an effort to protect the environment here. We only use natural compost on our farmlands now and no longer using chemical fertilizers and pesticides”.
Ren-Zhi Huang, a former graduate of Building and Planning from National Taiwan University, once the secretary general of “The Organization of Urban Re-s”, is now an important member of the Tucheng Environmental Protection Association. Mr Huang said
“I volunteered to come and assist the farmers here. This farm village is able to remain unchanged because of the moratorium on the military ammunition depot, so why can’t we make this place into a conservation area? This place is very close to Tucheng MRT station and developing here would increase the land value. However, the locals are against developing this place, they chose to guard their homes and protect their farmlands. Farming does not bring the farmers much income, but the joys and satisfactions of farming cannot be purchased by money”.
Mr Huang took out the government’s brief and planning report on the military ammunition depot and said
“During the years of stopping the county government from developing this place, there have been many eco-tours, farming experience tours and fun markets held here. Li-Lan Liu, the director general of the Tucheng Environmental Guarding Association, set up the ‘Ms Liu Environmental Classes’ here, promoting events such as ecological education and leisure coffee house, to show the government that we will never give up farming. There are now a total of 13 people in the ‘Military Ammunition Depot Promotion Cooperative’ and they will be working with farmers from other communities to regularly hold a farmers’ market to jointly promote their farm products. I believe Taiwan is a huge community and what we are doing here is community supported agriculture”.
Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a new type of direct marketing. Every growing season consumers sign contracts with farmers for a fixed amount of money. This amount is determined by how wealthy a certain consumer is. The consumer then has the products from the farm delivered once a week. The consumer and farmer share the risk together. In an age where the price of resources and foods keep rising, CSA reduces the wastage from transportation of resources. The consumers enjoy the freshest foods of the season and the farmers guarantee their source of income even when there is a nature disaster or in a time of under-harvesting. The local people are able to claim their “rights on food” from this type of direct marketing.
Photo courtesy of Tucheng Watch Green Union. Translated from Chinese by Jason Chen
The Maoist period had seen much pasture and forest devoted to agricultural production. Conversely, the years from 1979 to 1985 constitute a period of rapid deterioration in terms of available arable land. In 1981, 1984 and 1985, China suffered an annual loss of more than a million hectares. The next five years saw this trend reversed and in 1990 more new land was brought into cultivation than was lost. Thereafter, however, conditions deteriorated once more. Most cultivated land that disappeared because of industrial, urban and infrastructural development was fertile land on the periphery of urban centers. On the other hand, there still exists a considerable amount of wasteland, especially in the southeast and central eastern regions, unused as a result of mining or industrial activities. Some of this could still be restored for agricultural use.
Some scholars assert that the situation is not as bad as often described. The official total of China’s farmland, they say, is about 50 per cent lower than the real figure. Moreover, they argue that the decline has been the result mostly of desirable land use changes rather than of disappearance of farmland in favour of new cities, industries and transportation links.
China has a long history of underreporting its grain production area, one of the difficulties lying in the diversity of local criterion used for area measurement. Other reasons for underreporting are linked to taxation issues and the need to keep a “space’ for reporting big rises in production gain when asked to do so by higher levels of government.
There is still available farmland. Also, China’s average grain yields are still below the South Korean and Japanese rates, giving the country room for improvement. On the other hand, figures of the losses incurred during the last thirty years may actually underestimate the real loss. Reasons for the loss must be assessed carefully. The combined total of urban and rural construction has been responsible for less than one-fifth of China’s recent farmland loss. Another fifth of the total loss was the result of conversion to orchards, reflecting the increased demand for fruit.
In any case, the most problematic losses occur in areas with inadequate production capacity and in suburban coastal areas where the most productive agricultural land is converted to other uses. After careful, cautious analysis, one may conclude that in the future, grain imports from China are highly likely. For the time being, looking at the situation of world markets, there should be little problem with the country eventually doubling or tripling, its current grain imports. This however could change within the next few years. For sure, no catastrophic scenario is likely, but China’s farmland problem must be seen in an ever-changing global context.
The county controls ten county-controlled cities(縣轄市), nineteen townships (鎮) and a thousand over villages (里) which include some of the key tourism areas such as Tamshui, Wulai and Fulong. In the time of the Dutch colonisation, the principal inhabitants were the people of Basay, the Attayals emerged in the south of Taipei County soon after. Han Chinese eventually immigrated to the region in the mid 17th century, and aboriginals were consequently compelled to assimilate or immigrate to the mountainous regions.
It was not until the late 19th century that the term Taipei came into use to describe geographically the location of Northern Taiwan, and the cities of Hsinchu, Yilan, and Danshui formed under Taipei’s government. Shen Bao Zhen (沈葆桢), the imperial envoy of the P.R.C under request, set up the Taipei government/bureau (辦務署) which governed Hsinchu, Danshui, and Yilan.*
Taipei County experienced further change and division following the Japanese occupation in 1895, Keelung, Yilan and Hsinchu were established and Danshui emerged shortly after. From 1897, the Taipei bureau (辦務署) was abolished and all thirteen counties of Taipei – Shilin, Xinzhuang, Huwei, Jingwei, Taoziyuan, Sanjianyong, Shulinko, Zhongli, Keelung, Jingbaoli, Dingshunagxi, Shuefanjiao – came under the jurisdiction of the Taipei administration (轄區).*
*Names of townships and villages in Chinese: Keelung (基隆),Yilan (宜蘭),Hsinchu (新竹), Shilin (士林), Xinzhuang (新庄),Huwei (滬尾), Jingwei (景尾), Taoziyuan (桃仔園), Sanjianyong (三角湧), Shulinko (樹林口), Zhongli (中壢), Keelung (基隆), Jingbaoli (金包里), Dingshunagxi (頂雙溪), Shuefanjiao (水返腳), Qidu (七堵), Yang Min Shan Management Bureau (陽明山管理局), Cao Shan Management Bureau (草山管理局)
On the one hand, Chinese is doing better than most nations when it comes to economic resilience: China has not been at the origin of the crisis; it does not experience a financial breakdown, though its stock market has been devastated and unemployment is increasing quickly; it has fiscal and financial means far superior to the ones of any other nation for engineering a stimulus; if its exports are falling, its imports are following on the same rhythm, letting its commercial surplus intact; once the crisis is over, it will most probably become the number two world economy, and Japan will be relegated to number three; its stimulus might actually come at the right time, helping it to achieve the infrastructure it still needs; its foreign reserves make it able to buy world-class industrial assets at unheard-of prices and to secure its energy and raw material supply for a long time. Summing up, the present world recession might actually be one decisive step in the accession of China to world prominence.
But there is the other side of the equation…
If China’s economic and financial bases are comparatively sound, Chinas’ social and political sensitivity to the crisis is extremely high. Years of growth as well as the citizens’ acute perception of inequalities and corruption make society prone to rebel if revenues fall or unemployment continues to grow. According to unofficial reports, urban unemployment is already above 9 percent. The arrival of university graduates on the labor market is a source of tension, nurtured by parents’ expectations after having overpaid for ensuring that their children receive education and the job that used to be almost automatically attached to a university degree. Chinas’ higher education system proves to be very ill adapted to current economic needs…
When it comes to the stimulus, a significant rise in consumption will be extremely difficult to achieve, with consumers’ anxiety and expectant attitude linked to the cost of healthcare, threat of unemployment and necessary family investment in education. Vouchers can only achieve a very temporary effect. Public investment is easier to stimulate, but the problem here lies elsewhere: China is still not able to ensure quality spending where it needs it most – water sanitation, green buildings and green industries. “White elephants” types of projects and mere dilapidation of funds are still attached to sudden increase in public spending. If banks are now lending money more easily, they seem to do so preferentially to state industries (maybe recreating rampant bad loans), which is not where China needs to invest. So, stimulus might impede rather than hasten the necessary shift in China’s economic logic. Sustainability still remains a dream rather than a strategy.
In the countryside, the coming back of migrant workers makes the problem of land scarcity and degradation even more acute than before. Actually, the fact that millions of rural workers are left jobless (there will probably be more than forty millions people in this situation at the end of the year) has consequences that might be even more difficult to estimate. Part of this population comes back to the fields, where it will be mostly idle. Another part will stay in the cities, looking for an opportunity and constituting a growing lumpenproletariat. Finally, many of them will establish themselves in prefectoral-level and county-level cities, somewhere between their village and bigger metropolis, in several cases thus creating social tensions. In some parts of Chinas’ West, unemployment might already be a factor in the rise of animosity between Han Chinese and ethnic minorities.
Finally, there are several anniversaries this year that make the whole situation even more sensitive… The most important of these anniversaries is the foundation of the People’s Republic on October 1st. Some analysts see dissensions brewing within the Party’s leadership ahead of this celebration as to the course of action to be taken. Nobody knows yet in which mod China will celebrate the sixty years of the regime. The hydra of the crisis might be already largely vanquished, but the most plausible scenario is that China by then will enter into full struggle with its tentacles.
So, what is to be done? Four principles might help us to reinvent our economic model:
-We should encourage an economy of parsimony. This means for instance that growth is to be based on public investment in water management, access to water for all, green buildings, health and education rather than on individual and wasteful consumption. An economy of parsimony is one that does not arbitrate among goods only on the basis of their monetary value but which dares to discriminate according to value judgments.
-An economy of parsimony is also an economy that tries to reduce inequalities. For instance, social packages (such as vouchers), if they truly have to be used by governments, should go to the poorer sectors of society rather than being indiscriminately distributed. And they should be reserved for goods of obvious necessity, such as food and social services.
-We have to build up an “economy of proximity”, trying first to revive the economic vitality and diversity of our regions, rather than continuing on the road of over specialization. This might include some transitory protectionist measures, provided these measure apply to industries that are socially and ecologically beneficial to their surroundings.
-We do have to strive towards a globalized economic system, but such a system is not akin to a single globalized free market. It includes ecological and commercial regulations that protect natural and social environments that are particularly fragile.
Such is the challenge now met by the world community. What will be happening this year will show whether we are able to make the choices that, on the long-term, will prove to be the right ones.
Some twenty years later, one day, I came back to Tafalong to visit my Grandfather. We had a nice chat before he started to call me Nakao.
"Why do you call me Nakao?!" I was astonished.
"Your name is Nakao," said Grandpa peacefully.
Later on, I went to Sado and asked my aunt, "my name is Wusay, right?"
"Yes...." My aunt nodded, slightly confused.
"But Grandpa says, just now, that my name is Nakao."
"Oh really?" My aunt thought for a second and said, "in that case... you are Nakao."
My transformation took about ten minutes only.
One day, my neighbor, a Hoanya, asked me why I had my father’s name after my own, rather than my mother’s.
"Pangcah is a maternal society. Shouldn’t you take your mother’s name so that people can tell from which family you are?"
"Because my mother was Han," I replied. "Just that she married to a Pangcah who has a Japanese name."
"But her birth place is in Kalingko, not too far away from my father’s," I added. "She was born at the foot of Mei-lun, a nice hill. Her mother used to call her Mei-lun; sometimes my father called her Melon."
The Hoanya then suggested me to replace my father’s Japanese name with Mei-lun.
"I think Melon is better," I said. "Nakao Melon is a rare kind of melon, a Tafalong specialty."
"That’s it!" The Hoanya exclaimed. "I want to order a trunk of Nakao Melon!"
My second transformation took even less than five minutes.
There is no pinganganan (something after which one is named) for my name. My name has always been a nisanga’an (something that is created).
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