‘Don’t Blame China’ — Education Needed on Air Pollution in Taiwan

‘Don’t Blame China’  — Education Needed on Air Pollution in Taiwan
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

The Taiwan Electric Vehicles Association is leading the charge in educating Taiwanese about the benefits of switching to electric vehicles, and the harsh reality of air pollution.

Imagine this: you move to Taiwan and reside next to National Taiwan University. Walking into your new apartment, you notice a balcony and feel happy. The thoughts start coming into your mind on how you will plan to spend most of your time out there. It is a beautiful view and you get an excellent perspective of the university campus, along with the surrounding Taipei city landscape. What could possibly be wrong with this set-up?

Well, there is the noise from the bustling traffic, but what about the fine black soot covering your balcony? It is everywhere, so you clean it up. Soon after, the black soot returns and covers the balcony again. You realize cleaning it up won’t solve the issue.

For David Lane, co-founder of Taiwan Electric Vehicles Association (TEVA), this experience four years ago was his introduction to the immense amounts of air pollution in Taiwan. His interest in maintaining a clean and sustainable environment sparked a bigger concern for air pollution and electric vehicles (EV).

“Taiwan has incredible engineers and technical capabilities, but it seemed like no one was doing the advocacy work here to lend a voice to these technological solutions that we have to address for air pollution or even raising enough awareness on pollution,” Lane said in an interview with The News Lens International.

Education is key

Lane co-founded TEVA in the hope of educating Taiwanese on air pollution, sustainable energy and transport. The organization is the first Asia branch of the U.S.-based Electric Auto Association. Lane says TEVA’s mission is not just to lift the number of electric vehicles and scooters on Taiwan’s roads, but also improve public health.

Starting the organization has not been an easy task for Lane and his team. He has frequently come across Taiwanese who blame China for the local air pollution problem. According to Lane and the director of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), this argument neglects the severity of air pollution in Taiwan.

“One of the dominant preconceptions around air pollution in Taiwan is that it’s China’s fault. It’s air being carried over across the Taiwan Strait to Taiwan. One of the first things we have to do is accept responsibility. China contributes to some air pollution; as the studies indicate it’s up to 30% of the PM2.5 we experience here, but that means 70% is from local sources,” Lane says.

Local sources mostly come from Taiwan’s urban transportation. Cars, buses, trains and especially scooters all heavily contribute to the growing air pollution problem.

Lane says although global warming is a huge problem, what needs to be addressed is the concerning number of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5s, in Taiwan’s air. These particles are toxic to human health and can drastically affect people's quality of life. Composed of smoke, mould, dirt and soot, PM2.5s remain in the body and cause serious health problems over time.

In March of 2015, National Taiwan University researchers conducted a study on PM2.5 and air quality in Taiwan. They found that Taiwan’s standard concentration of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 was actually higher in a number of cities. PM2.5s in Kaohsiung stood at 30 micrograms per cubic meter, while both Taipei and New Taipei City recorded levels of 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

“They [fine particulate matter] are not filtered out by the nose, mouth or throat. They get down to the lungs and bloodstream and accumulate over your lifetime. When we look at lung cancer and so many other health conditions, it’s the accumulation of PM2.5s which is playing the most significant role,” Lane says.

The WHO has rated Taiwan as having the worst air pollution among the four Asian Tigers — Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The issue can’t be covered up like a band-aid, as most Taiwanese do through wearing face masks, Lane says.

“The type of masks largely used in Taiwan are surgical masks, which were never designed to protect the wearer from the environment or pollution,” he says. “The gaps in these masks are far too large to prevent these fine particulates in the air entering the passageways of the wearer.”

Solar

Taiwan, for much of the year, has enough sunshine hours to generate solar energy — and the island-nation is among the top 10 producers of solar power panels in the world.

A key obstacle to the development of solar in Taiwan is the intermittent nature of the resource. In other words, the constant amount of power which needs to be deliverable at all times isn’t sufficient with solar energy alone.

On July 29, Taipei turned a page with the installation of its first major solar array at a landfill site.

While this could be the first step towards a larger uptake of solar, public education remains an issue, Lane says.

“It’s absolutely vital to do the education side. Education, among the public, is key to build up a base of support and awareness,” he says.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole


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