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The Morality of Environmental Destruction

31 Dec

Am still reading Jared Diamond’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, and still enjoying his brutally measured logic. Here I found passages concerning our understanding of how past humans behaved towards the environment (contrary to what we understand of some tribes, many destroyed their environments) and how to consider the issue from a moral standpoint. I believe it is vital to make this differentiation.


(…) Today, environmentalists view people who exterminate species and destroy habitats as morally bad. Industrial societies have jumped at any excuse to denigrate pre-industrial peoples, in order to justify killing them and appropriating their land. Are the purported new finds about moas and Chaco Canyon vegetation just pseudo-scientific racism that in effect is saying, Maoris and Indians do not deserve fair treatment because they were bad?


In a previous passage, Diamond mentioned how the disappearance of several large land animals from North and Latin America and New Zealand coincided with the migration of Indians and Maoris to these lands.


What has to be remembered is that it has always been hard for humans to know the rate at which they can safely harvest biological resources indefinitely, without depleting them. (…) By the time that the signs of decline are clear enough to convince everybody, it may be too late to save the species or habitat. Thus, pre-industrial peoples who could not sustain their resources were guilty not of moral sins, but of failures to solve a really difficult ecological problem.


Tragic failures become moral sins only if one should have known better from the outset. In that regard there are two big differences between us and eleventh-century Anasazi Indians – those of scientific understand, and literacy.


And among his proposed solution:


Archaeology is often regarded as a socially irrelevant academic discipline that becomes a prime target for budget cuts whenever money gets tight. In fact, archaeological research is one of the best bargains available to government planners. All over the world, we are launching developments that have great potential for doing irreversible damage, and that are really just more powerful versions of ideas put into operation by past societies. We cannot afford the experiment of developing five counties in five different ways and seeing which four counties get ruined. Instead, it will cost us much less in the long run if we hire archaeologists to find out what happened the lasat time, than if we go on making the same mistakes again.


(…) the American Southwest has over 100,000 square miles of pinyon and juniper woodland that we are exploiting more and more for firewood. Unfortunately, the US Forest Service has little data available to help it calculate sustainable yields and recovery rates in that woodland. Yet the Anasazi already tried the experiment and miscalculated, with the result that the woodland still has not recovered in Chaco Canyon after over 800 years. Paying some archaeologists to reconstruct Anasazi firewood consumption would be cheaper than committing the same mistake and ruining 100,000 square miles of the US, as we may now be doing.

I found it particularly poignant as he mentioned Greece. In movies concerning the region, particularly from Jesus stories, you would not think that it is possible for such an arid area to sustain Israeli population as it was purported to do: allowing for religious factions to develop and young men to forgo their trades in order to follow prophetic figures, most notably Jesus of Nazareth. Such movies depict the landscape in that area as it is today. But biblical entries suggest a far more lush terrain, one of ‘milk and honey’ which allowed for the excesses of King Solomon and foreign tribes to pay tribute from as far as Ethiopia. Watching a food travelogue recently, I was also surprised to see how arid and sparse (vegetation-wise) modern-day Greece appeared. When you match it up with stories concerning the Roman empire: how the grains were able to be carried abroad in battle to sustain their fighting troops. Something is definitely off. The idea he put forth is this: That these great empires, the cradle of civilization, was so devasted ecologically by its inhabitants that they crumbled; and today we see only the shadow of what it was, because the environment that was there to allow such kingdoms to flourish are no more.


Today, Israel has become a food net exporter in the region due to energy intensive techniques such as drip-farming and concentrated chemical fertilization. Technology that was not available at that time. The fact that much of that energy and fertilizer comes from petroleum should strike fear into our hearts: that our means to keep back the consequences of our way of using land could very well be used up within the next century.


有關Denial Gate這件事,一個欺騙大眾的陰謀

22 Jun

在美國,一位勇敢的科學家和環保團體的合作,揭露 Heartland Institute 計畫性的反科學否認氣候變遷的事實,並大力打擊其資金來源。

Heartland Institute是個非營利智囊團,自從2008年每年舉辦一次國際氣候變遷大會 (International Conference on Climate Change) (1),企圖用被他們或石油大氣頁雇用的“專家”來說服大眾氣候變遷並不存在。

他們的影響力不容忽視:根據民調Harris Interactive,2007年,71%的美國人相信氣候變遷世人為影響,在2011年七月,這個數字降到44%。(2)

2009年,我參加聯合國在哥本哈根舉辦的氣候變遷大會外場的遊行時,一位美國反氣候變遷者(Climate denialist) 闖入,高舉“植物也需要二氧化碳 Plants Need CO2 too! ”的牌子。

今年五月,Heartland為了他們詭異的國際氣候變遷大會開幕,買了巨大的廣告牌,指出美國炸彈客Unabomber相信氣候變遷,試圖將相信氣候變遷的人與殺人犯和喪心病狂者劃上等號。此舉引起環保團體強烈反彈(3),紛紛邀集會員聯署,要求大型企業停止贊助Heartland。在這之前的二月,科學家Peter Gleick收到一封從Heartland內部寄出的匿名信,內容有關Heartland計畫設計中小學科學教材,教導質疑氣候變遷事實的內容。Gleick感到相當震驚,為了確認這樣的內容屬實,他假冒一個換了電子信箱理事委員的身分,寫信向Heartland索取內部通訊,並將所獲得的資料寄給媒體(4)。

這些通訊揭露Heartland強烈反科學的內幕,包含受託支持香煙企業對小孩行銷的過去 (5),近年來石化企業和匿名富者的暗地贊助,雇用科學家和媒體人士製造質疑氣候變遷事實的資料,和設計中小學教材的相關討論 (6)。

許多團體,包括Union of Concerned Scientists,350.org和,據此聯合舉辦聯署和單車遊行活動,並成功說服19加大行企業停止贊助Heartland。因此,Heartland 2012的資金已從原先預計的230萬美金降到114萬美金(7) ,對此組織是重重的打擊。Heartland的主席也因此公開表示,他們舉辦的國際氣候變遷大會很可能會是最後一屆(8)。









台灣青年氣候聯盟TWYCC UNFCCC COP17歸國分享/記者會 [Sharing session/Press conference] 誠摯邀請您

16 Dec


Time: 12/17下午兩點 [December 17th, 2pm – 5:30pm]
Location: 台北市中正區忠孝東路一段31號 [Zhong Xiao East Road No. 31]
近捷運善導寺站6號出口 [Shandao Temple MRT Stop Exit 6, walk straight along Zhong Xiao East Rd. and the building is on the left]

由於場地可容納人數有限,麻煩請大家填報名表,謝謝 [Please complete the registration form so that we know roughly how many people will attend. Thank you!]

感謝各位配合 = )

當天流程 [Schedule]
14:00-14:02 開場致詞 主持人:劉庭安 [Opening]
14:02-14:05 貴賓介紹 [Guest speakers]
14:05-14:10 社團法人台灣社會向上發展協會 薛良凱理事長致詞
14:10-14:15 邀請貴賓上台,張良伊執行長頒發感謝狀與貴賓
14:15-14:20 邀請青年代表上台與台上貴賓合影
14:20-14:25 台灣青年氣候聯盟 張良伊執行長致詞
14:25-14:35 TWYCC出團成果簡報 TWYCC COP17團長/財務長蔡佳芸
14:35 分享會開始
14:40-15:20 講題一:青年如何影響世界 /蔡佳芸、李芝融(台灣青
15:20-15:30 提問時間
15:30-15:50 講題二:台灣青年的氣候參與–作為一位「觀察員」的
角度及感想 /陳柏蒼(國立政治大學代表)
15:50-16:00 提問時間
16:00-16:20 講題三:德班歷險記 /陳柏宇、林嬙(台灣永
16:20-16:30 提問時間
16:30-16:50 講題四:台灣青年在世界的定位 /王景弘(台灣青年氣
16:50-17:00 提問時間
17:00-17:30 分享會結束,茶敘交流時間

主辦單位:台灣青年氣候聯盟 [Hosted by TWYCC]

[Sponsored by Taiwan Code Up Association and
Taiwan Institute of Sustainable Energy]

123 parade with the Green Party in Taiwan

10 Dec

Recently Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition (TWYCC), through the efforts of Liang-Yi Chang, worked with the Taiwan Green Party in it’s recent Climate Change activities – the December 3rd (123) Global Day of Action 123全球抗暖化日行動日. As a co-Director of TWYCC, I was invited to speak at their recent press conference promoting their event in front of Taipei 101.

The Green Party in Taiwan is often mistaken for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan. There are two major parties in Taiwan – the Nationalist Party (KMT) and DPP. They are mostly identified by their colors – the Blues and the Greens. Though in the past the Green Party has sometimes worked with the DPP in environmental issues as the opposition party, they are now aligned against both parties as they believe both of them have failed to make major commitments towards the environmental issues in Taiwan. In fact, the last time that Taiwan’s presidency was won by a DPP candidate (Chen Shue-Bian), he overturned many of the environmental issues that he had professed near and dear to his heart prior election. It was a disheartening betrayal to many of the local environmental groups that had supported him.

The Green Party’s two main issues this year are the increase in green space per person (parks), and a valiant anti-nuke stance under the current administration’s rhetoric that counts nuclear energy as renewable. There are other issues they are pushing which I won’t go into at the moment.

The Green Party is actually something of an international party movement, there are Green Parties in various countries of the world. Global Greens Network I’ve heard, for example, that the Green Party in Germany holds a great deal of sway, and was very effective in changing the country’s energy policies.

I was personally against aligning TWYCC with any political groups. But upon talking to some of the Green Party people, I realized our interests are very much aligned, and they are indeed very plain-spoken people whose objectives we can (at this stage) trust. Of course, we still reserve our independence and the right to detach and attach whenever a political parties goals changes from our own, as any good NGO would try to do, especially one such as our where our influence on climate change policy is so important to our operations.

So we volunteered to hold a booth at their event, plus make a live-connection to our team in Durban* on the day of the 123 parade. Since the internet connection in the hostel our youth were staying at in Durban was not very steady, we played a video our Media Coordinator Sarah Chen Lin had compiled from footage our COP17 team sent over from the event, and then skype-called Zora Tsai’s phone, our COP17 team leader.

Connecting to Durban event from Taipei City Hall

Liang-Yi and Sarah onstage with our COP17 t-shirts

The turnout to this event were mostly people who were already involved in environmental works movement. That was a pity, since they also hosted the screening of a pretty interesting film: Growthbusters (錢鬼剋星) at the outdoors venue that night. It was not a short film. But you can’t see it anywhere else in Taiwan! The Green Party say that they have been holding 123 parades for a decade now. The atmosphere at the entire parade/fair thing was fairly relaxed and enjoyable, and we had lovely volunteers to help out! I believe TWYCC can do much more next year to promote this event to attendees, and with a good turnout, bring government attention to strong climate change related policies.

We will, of course, hold firmly to our cause and independence as a youth led organization. Our goals are to become more involved in policy influence and capacity building this following year, and I will post more on that soon. If you have any ideas for our organization, please feel free to write to us at , visit us at and our facebook page

Getting stronger every minute!

*Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition has sent a team of 5 Taiwanese youth to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – 17th Conference of Parties (COP17), and the 7th Conference of Youth (COY7), to learn, network and participate in the youth movements there. They are also there to serve as a uniting/communicating factor for all the different groups of Taiwanese youth that are sent to this event. They will share their experiences with us on Dec 17th at the Youth Hub in Taipei. I hope to be able to post a link to this event soon. So stay updated!

Taiwan Youth in Durban

Yes you can eat these fish without squirming under the assurance that you and all of your descendents will never get to eat these fish again… for now

19 Oct

I wrote a while back about fish you’re allowed to eat. Proactive action is about acting on what you know. Well, here’s a list I just found called The Super Green List, which lists fish you’re definitely definitely allowed to eat, that’s good for you, if you feel this absolute, absolute inexorable urge to nibble on the fishies:

* The Best of the Best: September 2010

  • Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
  • Oysters (farmed)
  • Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
  • Rainbow Trout (farmed)
  • Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)

** Other Healthy “Best Choices”

  • Arctic Char (farmed)
  • Barramundi (farmed, from the U.S.)
  • Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington)
  • Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic)
  • Mussels (farmed)


If you haven’t heard about the atrocities of bottom-trawling yet, man you’re in for some nasty surprises:

And this article with stats and refs (my favorite) :

You know how it was said that destruction of the Amazon is killing opportunities for us to discover new medicines in the yet unexplored species that would die? Well, this is like that.

So here’s my pledge:

I pledge to eat only fish on the Super Green List here
and continue to actively and financially support anti-bottom trawling and other harmful fishing method policies whenever the opportunity arises.

You can make your OWN, CUSTOMIZED pledge here:

For bigger, better fish.

Costs aware of but not Priced for

11 Oct

One of the main problems with our current economical system is that we fail to internalize externalities. What this means is – the price of a beefsteak goes beyond the stated price of a beefsteak. The production of beef comes at a higher price. But the price is ignored because a ranch owner does not have to account for the dirty manure water that seeps into the groundwater under the cow’s feet, the methane gases (farts) they emit that have a global warming potential from 25 to 72 times that of carbon dioxide (depending on how you calculate it), the ecological costs of the grazing land that could have otherwise housed a vast, dense forest that could have functioned as a carbon-sink and home to at least dozens of different species, the health costs to the humans who digest this meat raised to be fatty, stocked full of hormones and antibiotics.

Then spokesperson for the beef industry, actor James Garner, underwent a quadruple by-pass surgery in 1988.

The question here is, how is it possible to change the way the system functions?  How is it possible for us to internalize the external costs? There are currently two ways that are being utilized by some countries, on some products, that may be of use in expanding:

1. Taxing: Just like the cigarette tax, this tax is meant to raise the price of products to account for the external costs of the production, as well as serve as a deterrent to consumption of high external costs products v.s. low external cost products. However, most of the market by itself is unlikely to take this drastic step without strong, controversial legislation backed by very strong consumer support. So we can look at the other alternative:

2. Listing the costs: Just as in some places fast foods are required to list their caloric content, and CO2 listing is now accepted, the efficacy of listing costs gives consumers the choice (and the guilt) to take a vote on what sort of food they want available on the market. What would you say if your next shrimp was labeled like this?


26 pounds of other sea animals were killed and tossed back for every 1 pound of this shrimp.

Just ask

19 May

I’ve been subscribed for a while to Amazon Watch, an organization that works to save the rainforest. They’ve been lobbying Chevron for quite a while to clean up their operations in Ecuador, which has effected the environment and health of many of the indigenous and local residents there. Here’s an article related to Chevron’s resistance to be accountable:

So recently I signed a petition calling for Chevron to clean up their operations. <; While doing so, I noticed that my country was listed as Taiwan, Province of China. Annoying when that happens. I felt offended. While I don’t usually like argue about nationality in the face of much bigger issues (environmental crisis, war…etc), I felt that in the many areas Taiwan was having our territory sequestered by name, efforts like the Amazon Watch had no reason to join the game in demeaning the reality of our national situation. So I wrote them this letter.

12:00 May 18, 2011

Hi Thomas,

I noticed that you are the Technical Manager for Amazon Watch, so you might help me out on this. I just signed the petition for Telling Chevron to clean up the Ecuador, but was slightly turned off by needing to list my country, Taiwan, as “Taiwan, Province of China”. A lot of other online registration and petition sites I’ve been to simply list “Taiwan”. Could you please fix this? If I didn’t feel strongly about the issue, I probably wouldn’t have signed it due to the fact that the listing disrespects my origins.

This is not a pro-independent/Nationalistic agenda I’m trying to put forward, nor do I wish to rock the boat in any way for your organization’s admirable efforts in helping the indigenous people of Ecuador. It’s simply a matter of feeling slighted.

Thanks so much!


And very quickly I got this reply.

05:04 May 19, 2011


Grace, thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. My name is Michael Zap, and I’m the website coordinator for Amazon Watch. For our country drop-down lists I just used a standard list that I gleaned from the internet, and I didn’t review all of the countries in the list. I have changed your country’s name to “Taiwan” on all of our forms now. The actual data that we store is only your two-digit country code in any case (TW), so you won’t be receiving anything from us mentioning “Province of China.”

Thanks again, and have a great day!

Michael Zap

Amazon Watch

Yay. I’m glad it’s sorted out. If you go to their petition site here <;, you’ll notice that the name is now correct!

This gives me more faith in the goodwill of Amazon Watch. Here is their website:

Also, if you’re living in Taiwan, there’s an opportunity to show your support for the amazon forest whenever you buy coffee! I always buy UCC’s coffee that uses 30% Rainforest Alliance beans. Rainforest Alliance coffees are farmed under permaculture conditions that allows the rainforest to retain its biodiversity, and also tries to protect the interests of farmers. For more info on rainforest alliance coffee:

List of edible fish!

12 May

The color graph in <> is lovely, but just to make it easier for myself (and anyone who’s interested) to see which fish is okay to buy or order in this marine-depleted age, here is a sorted list:




Pouting or Bib

Red Mullet


If unavoidable:

Alaska or Walleye Pollock





Cod (Pacific only, NOT Atlantic!)

Coley or Saithe






Monkfish (Anglerfish)


Pollack or Lythe

Prawn (cold water/northern, NOT King and Tiger)

Sardine or Pilchard


Scampi or Langoustine

Sole (Lemon, NOT Dover/Common)


Skipjack Tuna (NOT any other tuna!)


All others? Not okay!

Update May 19th: My friend Kevin also mentioned that this guide from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is also useful:

You can download a printable fish list from their link and put it in your wallet! How awesome is that?

Reconnecting with nature

11 Aug

I have been reading The Bill McKibben Reader, at first because I thought it might prove advantageous for my interview to go to Mexico this December, but I gradually realized that it’s not that sort of book that can fill me with mind-bogglingly profound statistics about climate change that can wow people less acquainted with the topic. No. It’s rather a memoire of McKibben’s journey as a journalist. Not heavy reading at all. But I rather liked it and read on. I rarely read hard and fast for required tasks at hand anyway. I find the space of the unknown and unintentional so much more entrancing.


Tonight I stumbled upon a paragraph that I particularly stood out for me because I happened to be discussing this with Joy today. I had, shamefaced, asked once more for her confidence. It seems sometimes when I have a matter troubling me I like to sound it off people I trust – for their love, encouragement, support and sometimes guidance when I am in dark emotional turmoil. I like to get trash out of my system as soon as possible so I can function well in the other curious states I’m in, and continue making more mistakes with a clear conscience.


So I asked Joy for her confidence, and remembering that a relationship is give-and-take, asked first if she had issues which she would like to share.


The thing she shared, of family troubles, came out rather on a positive note. I really enjoy her company because of the positivity she exudes. And now I was getting a glimpse into what upheld her strength of character. She said that whenever she was troubled, she would almost always find answers to her dilemmas in the Buddhist texts. She also told me about this time she meditated, how it felt to her. I was interested so far as her experience but could not remain too interested – when a person is relating her feelings it may sometimes be hard to relate to when there is not a situation at hand to imagine, and it can be bogglingly difficult to imagine how a meditation should feel like. However, she told me something I found very, very interesting. She said that there was a session of meditation she participated in that lasted for five days, and for the whole interim they were not allowed to speak, only to feel their own being. She said that during this time she came to understand why the ancient Chinese considered that the human body is made up of gold, wood, water, fire and earth. ( that’s the part I couldn’t get) She also said that you came to understand that humans are one with everything, you feel yourself as one with nature, with the universe, that all creatures are equal and everything in the universe is a part of you, and has given to you.


I was reminded, during this dialogue, of Jill Taylor’s TED talk.

I wondered whether there is this portion of our minds at work, or more shifted towards that direction, when our bodies are placed under constraints of stillness and our minds instructed to slow its ravenous pace… there must be an explanation for why meditation makes people feel the way they do. I’ve had meditation recommended to me by my friend Ankur before. He says it’s good for concentrating. I have fun with the way my mind goes flippy-flappy all over the place sometimes and so never got up the discipline to try meditating.


And now I shall come to the McKibben passage which I found so interesting. In this article he is talking about the reasons his Adirondack community had for restoring wolves to the area. He mentioned how it is a matter of human consumption – that we want to consume the sound of the wolf howl, the excitement of the sighting of a wolf, the same way we may wish to pet a dolphin. It is all massive egotism on our part. But then he says that perhaps the restoration of the wolf will serve to inspire something else as well – a closeness to nature that is generally lost to us, and with that, perhaps, a hope to preserve it. Here is the passage he uses to narrate his point:


I’ve had some of the same sense of dissolving into the world on days when I’ve stood staring at grizzly tracks in Alaskan mud. But I felt it much more one day in the woods behind my house. I was wandering along, happy for the exercise but lost as usual in some plan, lost as usual in my own grandness. Suddenly, the fiercest pain I’ve ever felt boiled up my torso toward my face. I whirled, staggered downslope, cracked into a tree, fell; by now I could see the yellowjackets coating my T-shirt. I ran, flicked, ran; eventually they were gone. But I could tell I was reacting to their venom. Hives popped out across my upper body. All I could think of for a minute were all the risks I’d heard dismissed by comparing them with bee stings: “you’re less likely to die by tornado/plane crash/shark attack.” But as I jogged back through the woods the few trailless miles to my house, I found those thoughts replaced by another almost overpowering urge. The urge to pray, and not a prayer of supplication but a prayer of thanksgiving. The trees had never looked more treelike, the rocky ridges more solid and rich, the world more real. The dram had somehow taken me out of myself, and though the sensation faded as the weeks passed, it has never disappeared altogether.


As I tried to describe the experience to others, I would say it was the first time I had felt a part of the food chain. But that is glib. In some way it was the first itme I’d felt a part of any chain other than the human one. The first time I glimpsed the sheer overpowering realness of the world around me, the first time I’d realized fully that it was something more than a stage set for my life.


Now a new-age hippie might find something creative in this and decide that a new way to experience a hallucinogenic closeness to mother earth is to get stung by yellowjackets. I couldn’t agree more with this perception, though I’d be more wary to try it. Rather, I’d like to look at records of people being stung and interview them for their experience. The closer it is to the experience the better the memory. Is it merely pain and the knowledge of the source that caused this supernatural sense of connectivity? Or was it due to something in the yellowjacket venom? Does one have to, like McKibben, have prior appreciation of nature to develop this revelation?


I’ve wondered why there have been polls showing a regression in American acknowledgement of climate change being anthropogenic. And then the recent one of Australians, who are considered among the best informed population of environmental issues in the world, having a rather fragile ecosystem themselves. (see Collapse, Jared Diamond with his chapter on Australia. Though in looking this up I happened upon an article that expresses some skepticism about his work which I would give the benefit of doubt until proven wrong).


The Independent, Aug 9 2010 Australians change their mind about climate change


What we can refer to, perhaps, is by the advent of the industrial age most of England’s urban population, from which sprang most of their politicians, was living as detached from nature as it is possible to get. It is rather impossible to view us as a part of nature when raised in such a manner, and unfortunately it was this urban attitude that was propagated across the world as the best method of human survival possible.


In contrast, the native American Indians were living as a part of nature and had passed down a wealth of tribal wisdom concerning how to live in harmony with nature. They were able to maintain this because they were constantly in contact with nature and reminded of their humility in the grand scheme of things.


Recently on my first couchsurfing experience I went to the foundation of a man named Joseph, whose main interest was using wilderness camps as therapy for at-risk youths. After reading this passage I begin to understand a little why wilderness camps may be effective therapy. Not only is there the element of survival (as I’d read about Mira Rothenberg’s attempts to bring traumatized children into connection with society – see book Children with Emerald Eyes) that would push a child to fend for himself and develop independence, but there is also this massive humbling effect of nature that pulls us out of our petty, self-focused world into a world perhaps where we are required to act as part of the chain because it is what is natural and best. We do not push nature to do our bidding. Rather, we are part of nature and its survival is deeply connected to ours.