The China Syndrome Part Two: Naresh Giangrande visits Taiwan
Typhoon Megi spilled 1000mm of water in 48 hours (about twice the yearly UK average) on the Philippines and headed our way on Thursday. It brushed the eastern side of the Taiwan, caused major flooding, picked up wind speed in the South China Sea as it headed for landfall just north of Hong Kong. Megi was the second mega storm to hit Taiwan this year. It is clear that with warming seas the trend of bigger and more powerful typhoons is increasing. The last Typhoon about a month ago hit Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan causing lots of damage. However many felt that if it had hit Taipei it would have been a disaster because of the many low lying districts and greater population. After all, with a property development model that is only interested in building and selling on as fast as possible flood plain land is cheap land. The after costs of flood defences, levees, and pumping stations, not to mention the cost to flooded residents is borne by us all. It’s a good example of a broken system that privatises profits and socialises losses – sound familiar to anyone? This is certainly not only a Taiwanese problem, like I said in the first post Taiwan has very enthusiastically taken up our model of economic development and become rather adept at it.
In Taiwan climate change is viewed as a national security issue. There seems to be lots of general awareness of the problem (although some dispute how much there really is) and certainly the political will to do anything about it seems weak. However there is certainly leverage there for any Transition Initiative people; will generally be on board with any solutions to this pressing problem.
Of course there are a great many things that good hydrological management can achieve as Professor Li outlined in the conference where we both spoke at. He uses the work of the Resilience Alliance and can certainly introduce many mitigation measures. However it seems only a matter of time until a big typhoon hits Taipei. It feels like Transition Initiatives have much to gain from the work of TTs as presenting solution based, practical problem solving in this area. Of course there is a limit to what towns or even countries can do as the search for an international treaty seems as elusive as ever. Many people who had a high level of awareness of this issue expressed grave doubts as to whether Taiwan had any future at all. Much of the Western side of the island is a large coastal plain with most of the best farm land, and would be prone flooding with only minor rises in sea levels. I felt surprised that many felt safer in mainland China with all of its problems. However so many expressed these views I can’t dismiss it.
So the job of Transition in Taiwan I feel will be to translate that awareness of climate change into action. I took a bit of time in each of my workshops to explain the change process that we use in our trainings (see Bob Doppelt, The Power of Sustainable Thinking for a good discussion of change processes). This model, derived from research into a great many change processes helps us to generate good awareness raising that leads to fruitful action.
However the other twin driver of Transition, peak oil, presents Transition Initiatives in Taiwan with an even bigger leverage for change. Mr Niven Huang of The Business Council for Sustainable Development ( a group representing 50 of the largest multinationals in Taiwan) explained to me the problem. Taiwan is 99% dependent on imported oil and gas for its energy. It has no indigenous fossil fuels, and despite being a world leader in solar and wind power technology there is no incentive to install any of it in Taiwan. It is all manufactured for export. So their resilience to a fuel shock is zero. Taiwan faces a significant, urgent, and growing energy security problem. For a country possessing ample solar energy (they are in the tropics) and also wind (being an island), this is shocking. They subsidise the cost of fossil fuels (and water apparently), petrol is about ½ the price it is in the UK, there are no Feed in Tariffs, and so there is no financial incentive to invest in renewable energy. They are stuck in a political vacuum on this matter, and there is no sign of any movement.
My strong suggestion to my hosts was the urgent need for a high profile report that should come from business, similar to the Peak Oil Task Force reports in the UK , setting out the clear and growing risks of an energy supply disruption and proposing solutions. Good solutions might include the immediate introduction of Feed in Tariffs (FITs), removal of any subsidies on fossil fuels, and a cross party framework that signals the intention of the government to gradually raise the cost of fossil fuels so that industry can plan for the transition. It was a shock for me to become aware of this in a country that was otherwise so advanced and pragmatic. A 21st century energy policy is surely not beyond the reach of a country that has the drive, financial resources, and technological expertise of Taiwan. It is only the most short sighted of approaches that can see any down side, all I see are wins all ‘round; energy resilience, green jobs, stimulations of a high tech manufacturing sector, less air pollution, doing their bit for climate change, and a re-tuning of their deepest cultural aspirations with modern living (see the previous post for my discussion on inner Transition and the T’ao).
I came away feeling very hopeful that Transition Towns had much to offer in the Taiwan context:
- A deep cultural resonance with inner transition and cultural change. Many people said that some of what I said sounded like I had been reading Lao Tzu
- They are at the front line of climate change issues and already see this as a national security issue.
- Are shockingly and alarmingly sleep walking into an energy security crisis. Any good awareness raising on this issue alone would stand them in good stead.
- Have a powerful, solutions focussed entrepreneurial culture that can resource and respond with important and timely green technologies and green solutions. So many win /win opportunities present themselves.
We will see if a safe and prosperous Taiwan emerges or will it be melt down; The China Syndrome – (although if you are in China then perhaps it is the USA syndrome?)
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