This week’s article highlights some of the many challenges to staying healthy in modern society. The Taiwanese government’s efforts in educating the public on the deadly effects of pollution, and specifically particulate matter which is smaller than 2.5 micrometres in size, known as PM2.5, is admirable and certainly to be lauded.
Indeed, it definitely is everyone’s responsibility to do their best to reduce pollution, such as by taking public transport, eating local rather than imported foods, and cutting back on purchasing excess consumer goods.
But therein lies the crux of the issue, because based on most governments’ and the world’s economic models, the development and prosperity of a nation as we measure it now is centred around the unsustainable requirement for endless economic growth.
Thus, for agrarian-based nations to “develop” they must turn to manufacturing, churning out immeasurable amounts of toxic pollution into our waterways, soil and atmosphere, as China and others are doing right now, not just poisoning their own citizens, but also contaminating the surrounding countries as well.
As EPA Deputy Minister Tsai quite rightly points out, Taiwan’s air quality is very heavily affected by pollution blown over from China; something that the Deputy Minister seems to imply Taiwanese people can do nothing but suffer when it gets really bad from October to March in most years.
Then again, once countries have passed the predominantly industrial phase of development, the next step for most developed nations, including Taiwan, has been to move on to a mix of services and high-end technological manufacturing, outsourcing much of the heavy industry to less developed countries, like China, but still maintaining some key industrial capacity like chemical refining in Taiwan.
At the same time, economies such as Taiwan’s also increasingly need to be sustained by rampant consumerism, catering to the wants of the more affluent middle and upper classes, whose materialistic desires and spending habits are encouraged by governments desperate for tax revenue, along with these government’s perceived need to show economic growth as a measure of their success in steering the country.
So where do the vast majority of these refined chemicals and petroleum, manufactured goods, and consumer products come from? Why the industrial bases on the west coast of Taiwan, and the east coast of China, of course, where almost the entirety of Taiwan’s PM2.5 pollution also comes from.
The reality of this seemingly paradoxical situation is that if people really want to breathe cleaner air, not die prematurely of the many diseases associated with breathing pollution, have children born without defects or learning difficulties, and really do something to reduce climate change, governments need to find alternative sources of wealth and more appropriate measures of success that do not continually promote consumerism on a global scale. In a word though, people really need to stop buying so much stuff.