We need no more either-or dilemma
On the ongoing transition-related environmental issues in Taiwan
Between summer 2014 to summer 2015, I had the honored to stay for a while in two coastal communities, Yungxing (in Taoyuan) and Sanhe (in Xinbei), for separate reasons. The two communities, though much different in demograph, share one thing in common: they have a long coastline inhabited by this miraculous type of algae, “calcareous algae”, which has the ability to build coral. The two largest coralline algae populations in Taiwan happen to lie in the two communities.
But now the two communities have one more thing in common; they might become the new “sacrifice zone” of our economic system; this time, under the name of Energiewende. The community of Yungxing has been fighting long against a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving station that would wipe out the coastline where the coralline algae. The government and the planning company tell us again and again, you either accept this receiving station, or you accept the failure of energy transition goals by 2025. The community of Sanhe, on the other hand, cannot accept the fact that a foreign enterprise simply comes in and decide to plant some offshore wind turbines in their fishing zones without their consent. Once again, the government and the wind company tell us, you either accept those offshore wind turbines, or you accept the failure of energy transition goals by 2025.
As a future renewable engineer, I’ve been learning a lot about wind turbines. They kill birds, but probably kill fewer than housecats and windows, maybe even fewer than thermal and nuclear power plants. The noise might be annoying, if you sail your boat to just beneath the turbines and try to differentiate the noise from the turbine and the background seawind. Above all, we still have no empirical evidence that such noise causes true harm to human (that said, it is still possible that such risk occurs, to us or to other marine species). So those who oppose to such technology must be either selfish, foolish or both, aren’t they?
If you draw to such conclusion, you are missing the main picture. This is not a conflict between selfish climate denists, Energiewende skeptists, and the common good. The relevant moral issues here are not the What questions. Everyone in this picture knows that we need more renewables, and that LNG, fossil fuel though it is, will play a role in replacing coal and complement the variations of wind and solar, at least in the very short future. Everyone, including the communities and the environmental groups which support them. In fact, I can think of no reasons why the people of Sanhe would oppose to Energiewende; three nuclear power plants locate inside the densely populated Xinbei city, and if there is a region in Taiwan where the people want Energiewende the most, it must be here. In the past, they have already shown their determination towards the transition; on an island where many still blindly believe that no electricity growth means no economic growth or social progress, Xinbei city has always ranked the first when it comes to energy efficiency enhancement, energy use reduction and demand side management.
The real relevant moral question here, as in every other environmental issue, is the How question. The people want to be part of the solution; they want the solution to both fit the well being of their own community and also the society, mankind, and the ecosystem as a whole. But beyond all that, they want to have real voice and make truly mattering decisions regarding the land and ocean they live for all their lives. They don’t want pre-determined either-or choices. They don’t want to be taught what is the best for them. They already knew. The real question is, how can we make them part of the solution, while they achieve their needs?
Wind turbines are the symbols of determination to fight against a global crisis. But what good is in fighting a global crisis if the local community cannot find identity in it? We know that every offshore turbines is an artificial coral and might increase the net primary productivity nearby, so why not discuss with the fishermen how to harness this potential? We know that wind turbines need maintenance, so why not discuss how the local logistic and existed industries can benefit from it? But beyond all these trivial details, we should first ask the locals how they want the discussion to be like, and how they want the Energiewende to proceed. It must be their Energiewende. The people’s Energiewende. A true solution can only come up only when this happens.
As for the LNG receiving station in Yungxing, the company that plans for it now says that there are alternatives to directly destroying the coralline algae. Surprise surprised. Wouldn’t it save a lot of effort for all of us if they just sit down and talk with the community and the environmental groups long before they decide anything?