Even the benev­o­lent can­not have it both ways

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Lead­ers from six cities and coun­ties in Cen­tral and South­ern Tai­wan pledged on Tues­day to ban the burning of petroleum coke and coal in a bid to pre­vent the spread of PM2.5 par­ti­cles. Par­tic­u­larly haz­ardous to health, th­ese par­ti­cles of­ten reach mid­dle to high lev­els in ar­eas of Cen­tral and South­ern Tai­wan, caus­ing a risk to those with vul­ner­a­ble car­dio­vas­cu­lar and re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tems. With­out a doubt, we wel­come this ini­tia­tive and hope that lo­cal and na­tional au­thor­i­ties will fur­ther ad­dress the cause of air pol­lu­tion, the ef­fects of which have crossed ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries to be­come one of the lead­ing causes of death for six out of 10 peo­ple across the na­tion. Yet, we are equally won­der­ing if the heads of those mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and coun­ties have also con­sid­ered the con­se­quences of their de­ci­sion to shut down power plants and fac­to­ries on the mid- to long-term. Maybe all al­ter­na­tives should have been clearly stated be­fore em­bark­ing on such new pol­icy. Among other pending ques­tions are, how are we go­ing to pro­duce enough elec­tric­ity in the fu­ture? Can we af­ford to ban the burning of petroleum coke and coal all at once, and close nu­clear power plants at the same time? Can we de­crease en­ergy pro­duc­tion with­out en­cour­ag­ing proper en­ergy-sav­ing mea­sures? In the­ory yes, but in prac­tice we should re­mem­ber that one can­not have it both ways in real life. This ap­plies even to benev­o­lent politi­cians.

Ac­cord­ing to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (EPA), PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tions were at their high­est in some town­ships in Yun­lin County and Changhua County at over 71 mil­ligrams per cu­bic me­ter in late March, mean­ing that out­door ac­tiv­ity should have been avoided if pos­si­ble. The same was true on the out­ly­ing is­lands of Kin­men and Matsu where PM2.5 lev­els were in a mid­dle range of 42-47 mil­ligrams per cu­bic me­ter, due to off­shore pol­lu­tion over the same pe­riod. A mea­sure­ment of 35 mil­ligrams per cu­bic me­ter or lower is usu­ally con­sid­ered “low range,” but it is still a po­ten­tial health haz­ard for those in poor health. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est statis­tics re­leased Tues­day by the Health Pro­mo­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (HPA), air pol­lu­tion could be re­spon­si­ble for an in­creased num­ber of lung can­cer cases in Tai­wan, in ad­di­tion to smok­ing and ex­po­sure to cooking fumes. In 2012, the same data show that 11,692 peo­ple were di­ag­nosed with lung can­cer, which rep­re­sented a 6-per­cent spike from the pre­vi­ous year. If you con­sider all types of can­cer al­to­gether — colon, lung, liver, breast and oral can­cers, as well as prostate, gas­tric, skin, thy­roid and esophageal can­cers — the num­ber of new can­cer pa­tients in­creased by 4,012 from the pre­vi­ous year to a record 96,694 pa­tients. With an in­ci­dence of new can­cer di­ag­noses in Tai­wan of 415 cases for ev­ery 100,000 peo­ple, or one in ev­ery 223, in 2012, there is lit­tle won­der that var­i­ous types of pol­lu­tion might have in­creas­ingly af­fected our health with­out our re­al­iz­ing it. That is wor­ri­some. It is im­por­tant for all gov­ern­ment agen­cies to thor­oughly ex­e­cute stricter pol­lu­tion con­trols.

At the same time, we are left won­der­ing how lo­cal and na­tional lead­ers are plan­ning to ad­dress soar­ing en­ergy con­sump­tion with­out con­sid­er­ing the need for elec­tric­ity pro­duced by nu­clear power. Dur­ing an in­ter­pel­la­tion ses­sion last month, Pre­mier Mao Chi-kuo ( ) said the Ex­ec­u­tive Yuan’s Atomic En­ergy Coun­cil ( ), a nu­clear safety reg­u­la­tor, will wait un­til the end of 2016 to de­cide on whether to ex­tend the life­span of the First Nu­clear Power Plant ( ). The First and Sec­ond Nu­clear Power Plants, launched in 1978 and 1981, re­spec­tively, are sched­uled for de­com­mis­sion­ing be­tween 2018 and 2023. A third plant, lo­cated in Ping­tung County, which be­gan op­er­a­tions in 1984, is also sched­uled for re­tire­ment start­ing in 2024. The state-run Tai­wan Power Com­pany ( ) has al­ready stated that Tai­wan faces a power short­age if the three op­er­a­tional plants are de­com­mis­sioned ac­cord­ing to sched­ule and if the moth­balled Fourth Nu­clear Power Plant never launches. If the lo­cal gov­ern­ments now join hands in shut­ting down the plants burning petroleum coke and coal, we might have to con­sider us­ing bike gen­er­a­tors in or­der to charge our smartphones in the near fu­ture. That is a healthy op­tion but not a fea­si­ble one on a large scale.

In fact, so­lar, wind or hy­draulic en­ergy should be used along­side the burning of petroleum coke and coal, as well as nu­clear power, for a proper en­ergy tran­si­tion, mean­ing a longterm struc­tural change in en­ergy sys­tems. There is no en­ergy mir­a­cle; the sun does not al­ways shine and the wind is un­pre­dictable. In or­der to of­fer Tai­wan the same “En­ergiewende,” a term that means en­ergy “turn” or “revo­lu­tion,” as Ger­many, politi­cians should adopt a co­her­ent pol­icy and avoid mar­ket­ing slo­gans. By ad­mit­ting that one can­not have it both ways, the can­di­dates in the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion must clearly ex­plain to vot­ers that the en­ergy revo­lu­tion will have side-ef­fects like rais­ing the cost of elec­tric­ity, in­creas­ing costly sub­si­dies and turn­ing en­ergy con­sump­tion into a quasi-planned econ­omy. That is also the in­con­ve­nient truth be­hind en­ergy tran­si­tion and po­lit­i­cal slo­gans.

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