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May 23, 2017

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A nuclear-free Taiwan shows Tsai's lack of foresight

This past Saturday marked Earth Day, the annual worldwide day where more than one billion people across the world celebrate by showing support for environmental protection. But in 2017, things are complicated.

After all, what good is a day originally created to put the environment on the national political agenda, when politicians keep trying to take it off? In the United States, the Trump administration's defunding and censorship of scientific research, threats to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, appointment of climate-skeptic Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency and a reliance on "alternative facts" to set national policy has unsettled the scientific community and environmentalists alike.

Protestors argue that evidence-based research is under attack, as researchers' budgets are shrinking fast. Scientists are feeling so under siege that they used Earth Day to take to the streets for a series of "March for Science" events.

The marches took place around the world, from San Francisco and Munich, to Paris and Berlin. Taiwan-based supporters of the March for Science also organized a riverside cleanup event in Taipei in support of the campaign.

The U.S. President's proposed budget, though declared dead on arrival in Congress, nonetheless reflected his priorities. Trump sought to slash a staggering 18 percent (about US$5.8 billion) from the National Institute of Health's budget. Meanwhile, the U.S.' National Science Foundation, which has provided funding to more than 200 Nobel Prize winners, is expected to take a similar hit.

One of the hallmarks of a thriving nation is respect for its scientific community. Scientific research plays a vital role both in the economy and people's daily lives. This paper holds that while it is honorable for scientists to remain apolitical and nonpartisan, that should not mean being blissfully ignorant of the realities of politics. Everything is political.

Though Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has not expressed views as controversial as those of Trump — who dismissed climate change as "bullshit" and a Chinese "hoax" — it is clear that climate change is not a priority issue for Tsai.

Since taking office, Tsai's government has pledged to expand fossil-fuel generation, saying that the nation's energy mix for the next 35 years would rely primarily on coal and natural gas. According to state-run utility Taipower's proposed long-term energy development program, to support the government's plant to phase out nuclear power plants, the company plans to increase fossil fuel power generation capacity by 21.47 million kilowatts before 2027. This January and February already saw a year-over-year power supply increase of 14.13 percent and 15.27 percent, respectively.

And what role has the Environmental Minister Lee Ying-yuan — who recently found himself in hot water for eating shark fin soup — been playing as the government takes such actions? While the government has promised to make Taiwan a "nuclear-free island" by 2025, it remains unclear who is going to take responsibility for the environmental and human cost such a phasing out will bring as a result of increased carbon emissions from fossil-fuel generation.

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