chapter  3
Back from the brink: Resolving Taiwan’s environmental problems
Pages 61

The experience of most countries since the Industrial Revolution started in the nineteenth century has been for states to strive as hard as they could for industrial (manufacturing) growth, regardless of the cost, because it is industrialization that brings the fastest and greatest economic benefits – in job creation, wealth generation, and national power. The cost, however, is often high, especially in the early period of the process – in increased socioeconomic inequality, harsh labour and living conditions, and, as observed in Chapter 2, mounting environmental problems, especially in overcrowded, burgeoning cities. An intriguing question is: what finally causes a state to recognize and begin to tackle the costs of success, especially in the environmental realm? As one looks at the history of the ‘successful’ nations, i.e., those that are now highly industrialized and wealthy, virtually without exception one can see a combination of public activism (environmentalism) and government programmes being responsible for the turnaround. Who takes the lead, however? In most cases, it is public activism that finally prods the government into establishing agencies and enacting laws for environmental clean-up and protection. That has certainly been the experience of the United States and Japan, and Taiwan has followed in their footsteps, including having close liaison with the national environmental protection organizations in those two countries, especially the US. It is significant, but not really surprising, that public activism tends to take the lead in those states with democratic systems where environmental abuses can be subject to public scrutiny and criticism. Conversely, one has only to note the experience of the former Soviet Union and the former satellite states of Eastern Europe to see the dreadful environmental consequences of unchecked governmental control of the development process. Russia and the former members of the defunct Soviet Empire are now struggling to come to grips with their horrendous environmental problems. China likewise is now feeling ever more the environmental impact of its inherently unsustainable and contradictory system of political authoritarianism but increasingly free market economy. Unfortunately, China does not yet have a system that makes public activism a very useful tool for moving the government in the direction of environmental protection.1