Even Some Environmentalists in Taiwan Are Missing the Point…

Tony Yen
Tony Yen
Sep 26 · 7 min read
One year and one month apart, the rest of the world has witnessed waves of climate strikes that challenged the fundamentals of the current politic and economic system, while Taiwan withdrew back to the regressive “nuclear-or-not” debate that we already had and brought us nowhere for decades, with no genuine solutions to the climate crisis being discussed. Original tweet.

The “radical” speeches and actions of the younger generation against developed nations at the Climate Action Summit drew some controversies.

In Taiwan, no major climate action occurred in the week to disrupt the business-as-usual life of the public, while haters mocked the movement for being too naive and unrealistic.

The rhetoric is much similar to what right wing conservatives around the world are using: some attacked Greta’s looks, some attacked her speech etiquette, some attacked her leftism ideology, some blamed her for not promoting nuclear (while some used the news coverage of climate strikes to promote it)… same old, same invalid claims that came from people who, deliberately or not, misread her words over and over again.

A typical right wing comment on Greta from Taiwan; attacking her looks, her expressions, her manners, and most of all, her age (“Personally I think it is hard for a 16-year-old girl to understand environmental issues such as carbon emissions”).

It is however the response of some environmentalists in Taiwan that is worthy of more attention. For example, Shen-Horn Yen, a renowned ecologist in Taiwan, made a post that would perhaps puzzle many of his foreign colleagues.

In this post, he questioned whether Greta acted on her own behalf, and whether such action that “lacks concrete scientific support” could persuade anyone. When answering the comments below his post, he also questioned the idea of putting generational justice as the priority in the speech; after all, “is it the case that teenagers don’t consume resources to meet their daily demands?”

These claims are of course, very similar to, and as invalid as those made by right-wing on-line communities at the international level. Anyone who reads carefully Greta’s previous manifesto should know that her claims are well-supported by the scientific community, and her focus on generational justice, whether we adults like it or not, has much merit.

Sure, people from the younger generation were brought to a world with a carbon intensive economy (without their consent), but such economy should have been transformed way earlier before they were born, and they are now simply asking the adults to finish their long overdue task. So are we hearing a “you-live-in-the-system-so-you-should-not-be-complaining” style of rhetoric from an ecologist now?

“You live in the system, so you should not be complaining”. Very common reactionary comment on activists, though I hardly expected an ecologist would adopt such rhetoric. Original Source.
There is actually a Greta version of Mr. Gotcha now!! Source

Another claim that would probably perplex many foreign colleagues of Shen-Horn Yen was that he considered Greta’s action to be ineffective. “Greta’s strategy might encourage the environmental activists who are more sensation-oriented, but it is hard to move the scientists, and environment and ecology workers who are struggling to improve many structural issues.”

He even went further to state the following:

Without understanding the structural problems and going into the system to undermine it, the impacts would be minimal by only expressing anger on the internet.

Perhaps he was referring to the situation in Taiwan specifically when making those statements. Still, in general, I was quite sad when I read his post. It had a much more negative impact than reading the hate posts from right-wing groups. After all, to hate environmentalists is what the right wing groups always do, but reading the similar rhetoric coming out from an ecologist? This is very worrying.

It is worrying because it is a signal of how isolated the environment movement in Taiwan has become, especially since last year.

Much to the contrary of Shen-Horn Yen’s commentary, Greta’s words are inspiring activists, scientists, and professionals related to sustainability alike around the globe. Evidence for this is abundant, from the slogan “scientists for future”, to the people who actively joined the strikes globally last Friday. I myself know at least a dozen of my classmates who joined the strikes, and they are renewable energy engineers or project managers that I suppose fit into the category Shen-Horn Yen considered to be “struggling to improve many structural issues”.

Also, Greta’s words do not stay on the internet only. It now echoes through the streets of Berlin, Hamburg, New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta, and any major cities in the world.

In particularly, if you live in a nation where 1.4 million people went onto the streets urging for climate action in just one day, no one could doubt the effectiveness of the actions Greta and the Fridays for Future initiated, and no politicians could seriously ignore the implications of them.

Of course, not all nations mobilized as drastically as Germany, but the impact of the climate strikes is obvious to witness, even under criteria of traditional politics: the Greens are sweeping victories all over Europe now, gaining more votes than ever from the EU to local elections.

For the record, I think it is reasonable for the environmentalists in Taiwan to overlook these strong momentum for climate actions and energy transition at a global scale. After all, energy politics in Taiwan has been strangled by the obsolete “ yeah-but-what-about-nuclear-power-then-debate” since the last year’s anti-energy transition referendum.

With the existing nuclear power plants impossible to extent their lives and the only constructing one unlikely to be finished ever, this nuclear-or-not discussion is a fake issue merely wasting our time to act, or in Greta’s word, a type of “climate delayer-ism”.

Unfortunately one of the negative impacts of the smear campaigns commenced during the referendum is that many Taiwanese no longer believe that renewables can be a major contribution to the power system and carbon reduction.

So now when environmentalists are trying to promote climate action in Taiwan, they are facing a headwind unseen in other parts of the world; a certain portion of the population can only think of nuclear when you talk about climate. This is of course anything but the truth.

But it explains why many environmentalists in Taiwan now shy away from calling for direct climate actions and decide to take a more establishment approach on the issue. After all, so long as President Tsai wins the election next January (after Hong Kong and other factors, this seems more likely to be the case), we still get our energy transition as planned, and then we can develop more renewables in the future.

I totally understand this strategy and agree that under the circumstances we are facing right now, it might be the safest way to achieve a not-so-bad result in the end. Still, there are worrying compromises made because of this strategy.

For example, we actually don’t know what will happen to our energy system after 2025. The government said that we will exceed 20% of renewable share by 2030, but has not yet given a specific roadmap and target. And what about the 2050 goals? The carbon budget for east Asia would require us to go drastically down to essential net zero emissions (and thus a near 100% renewable-based economy) between 2040 and 2050 at the latest.

By then, all the coal power plants should have been long gone, and the gas power plants either use green gas produced from renewables or will have become stranded assets. Let’s not even mention the transition of the transportation sector and heating sector into renewables, which are in some sense more problematic than the transition in the power sector.

Yet, the strangled nuclear-or-not debate has made us short-sighted, focusing only on the 2025 targets. Sure, 2025 is a red line that we must break through in order to get to the more ambitious future we all hope for, but that ambitious future might not arrive if we let ourselves trapped in the trivial discussions of long debunked myths such as the necessity of baseload and the variability of renewables threatening grid reliability.

I hope that more Taiwanese, environmentalists in particular, can open their eyes and realize that, it is no longer just about the 20% renewables which we will get anyway by 2025 on our small island. This is what the Fridays for Future movement and the climate strikes are teaching people around the world; of course, that also includes us, and we should not be overlooking it.

For the record, Shen-Horn Yen did make additional statements in another post about Greta, saying that “even I casted some doubt on Greta Thunberg’s action and speech content… if more people call for attention on the issues, and also give concrete and feasible solutions for others to follow, then I think the calls of different activists can still ‘fill in some gap’ in the end.”

That said, he still doesn’t seem to understand what new form of protest the climate strikes and extinction rebellions have become of, and how broad their impacts have reached.

It is no longer just some celebritys’ plea for a better planet to the elite politicians, but a rage of an entire generation that demands true and rapid change to adapt the politic and economic system to a post climate crisis world.

Neither do most Taiwanese, even the environmentalists, understand that.

Updated: Taiwanese did perform a demonstration today on the second Friday of the climate strikes in September. Still a very small, but very well done job. Hope to see more coming in the future.

RE Members

Covering renewable energy development and deployment around the world.

Tony Yen

Written by

Tony Yen

A Taiwanese student who studies Renewable Energy in Freiburg.

RE Members

Covering renewable energy development and deployment around the world.

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