2011年2月20日 星期日

Pollution in Taiwan


I'm not sure why, but a lot of people - especially people from overseas - ask me about pollution in Taiwan. It would seem that Taiwan gets a lot of bad press in this regard, and some of this bad press is undoubtedly justified.

The obvious question being: "Is Taiwan polluted?" The obvious answer being: "Yes."

But then again, so is America, Canada, China, and any other country I can think of. Taiwan is indeed polluted, but it is, in the mere fact of its pollution, unremarkable. The question is really one of degree, and when we ask this question, namely: "How polluted is Taiwan?" the answer is more complex.

If I were to compare Taiwan's pollution in one area - for example water quality - to my own country, the United States, Taiwan comes off looking polluted. Then again, were I to compare Taiwan's water quality to China, Taiwan comes off looking better. Taiwan is far from the dirtiest country I have been to, and anyone who doesn't believe me is hereby invited to visit Shenzen or Bangkok.

Add to this the fact that Taiwan's pollution problems are not evenly distributed over the island, and the specific nature of these problems differ from area to area.


Kaohsiung has a very serious pollution problem to deal with, not only in the area of water quality, but also with regard to air quality, and also the nature of chemicals either leeched from or spilled into its topsoil. This is in keeping with its history as an industrial center. The Kaohsiung City and County Governments are to be complimented on what progress they have made in cleaning up their environment. Even still, they have a long way to go.

Taitung, however, with both a smaller population and a sparse industrial base, faces a different dilemma. The biggest problem here is the use of fertilizers and pesticides. These fertilizers and pesticides are seeping into the ground water, and also getting washed out to sea. This problem is now so serious that Orchid Island's fisheries are being affected, and this is not even to speak of destructive practices currently employed by many local fishermen.

If you come to Taiwan looking for pristine wilderness, it can be found. Despite the rising population found on the western side of the island, much of the island's interior remains undeveloped and in many cases untouched. If you want to find dark, sludgy rivers, and piles of garbage, you will also find them here. Taiwan has any of the problems experienced by any country along a particular axis of development, namely the transitional stage between an economy based on manufacturing/agriculture and the more "service based" economy seen in most Western nations.

Still, I wouldn't despair over this. I have seen improvements, and I have faith in the Taiwanese people's ability to influence the quality of their lives and their environment. I definitely think that it will require further efforts in the spheres of both education and law enforcement to correct - or at least remediate - the harm done to the environment here, but I think it can be done.

And before you judge Taiwan too harshly on the score of being "dirty," you might reflect on the fact that many countries, such as the United States and Canada, are in a sense the cause of this pollution. Why do you think most everything in the West says "Made in China" now? It is not only because it can be produced more cheaply in countries such as Taiwan and China, but also because much of the pollution associated with this kind of manufacturing can be passed on to nations like Taiwan.

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