Suffolk University

Same Battle, Different Ground – Sustainability and Civic Engagement in Taiwan and the US

Borders, democracy, nothing will matter once the planet is dead, so citizens across the world start their battle for sustainability. Unlikely allies US and Taiwan have very similar ways of action despite different styles of living.

The world is divided with two types of borders – physical, with barbed fences, and mental, like various cultures, mentalities, religions and ideologies. In other words, this world has a lot of separatist and individual ideologies that divide the humankind in addition to existing physical separation. Yet despite this separation people unite over common sentiments such as wish to strive for better life – freedom, peace, transparent governance, and sustainability. With recent movements of sustainability advocacy – Sustainable Development Goals by the UN, Paris Agreement – ordinary citizens now pay more attention to the world outside and demand global changes. These common sentiments, such as worry about environment, create a better environment in the world, and heal the divide that has been said to be unfixable. 

            Taiwan and the US are one the opposite sides of the world, separated by both types of borders, with different histories, different struggles, absolutely opposing cultures and mentalities, yet their movements for sustainable future make them closest allies.

            Taiwan is deemed one of the most sustainable developing countries in Asia– ranked 142 for the environmental wellbeing in 2010, three spots above United States, in a Sustainable Society Index. According to their 2018 report of completion of UN’s SDGs, they managed to cut industrial and household waste by roughly by 80%, and they are not stopping there. While both light and heavy types of manufacturingare present which boost their economy astronomically, Taiwanese government and companies are cautious of their impact on the overall environment. For example, companies involved in food, chemical, and financial services with a common stock above NT$10 million are required to fill out extensive Corporate Social Responsibility reportthat reflects their effect on the environment and customers. Although, not only corporations are taking collective actions towards a more sustainable future; citizens of Taiwan are known as one of the most participatory nation in the world. Taiwanese people not only care about financial future of future generations, but also about whether that future will be in the healthy environment. 

            On the other side of the globe,United States is known for affecting the climate change in a rather drastic way– enormous consumption of single-use plastics, low-refined cheap petroleum, overall neglect of the effects of corporations on the environment. Only as of recent, American citizens started to make numerous effortstowards a dramatic transformation into an industrial yet sustainable country through advocating the issues and realizing alternatives for energy. However, just like Taiwanese people, Americans have got a lot on their plate that they cannot delegate to any other generation or entity – many are dissatisfied with the current President, capitalistic nature of the society, financial instability, and democratic erosion. Nonetheless, people understand that without healthy environment none of the above mentioned issues would matter.

            An example of how Americans are taking steps to changing their country to become more sustainable is through civic engagement and passing bills that are primarily focused on establishing a government-controlled commitment to renewable energy sources and partial subsidization of usage of solar panels, geothermal sources, etc.. If to get a closer look at one particular case, Green New Dealand 350Massorganization are perfect example of suistainable civic movement. To begin with, Massachusetts is one of the greenest states in the US, so the push for the Green New Deal is not an outlier within that community. The organization strives for creation of a better, green-er future with government subsidizing positive reinforcements, particularly decarbonization of the economy. Citizens are meeting on a biweekly basis to distribute the information about successes of the community, how to contact representatives and what new innovations there are in the realm of sustainability. Even though the meetings are biweekly, they do cover a lot of ground and go through a lot of information. With a round of 40 people turnout and 15 regular attendees, the community has achieved a lot and is now well-known throughout the state for their civil disobedience.

            Taiwan has a similar organization, a branch of the same parent movement 350 Org. However, Taiwanese counterpart of 350Mass has a wider and a slightly more aggressive focus – with present party polarization and many issues at hand within an island state, Taiwanese citizens advocating for sustainability have a more ‘let-us-roll-up-our-sleeves’ type of work ethic. With main focus on policy making combined with protests and civil disobedience. However, Taiwanese might have an upper hand on combatting sustainability issues through policy making as the government of Taiwan is more receptive towards citizen-driven ballots and policies due to an increased rate of democratization. Overall, citizen movements in Taiwan are the signs of a healthy transitional democracy and have large turn-outs and yield successful results

            Two continents, two languages, cultures, values and ideologies, yet citizens take part in creating change the same way – making their voices heard. The issue that unified such unlikely groups of people is larger than any political or economic issue ever in existence, because without a healthier planet there will be nothing to separate with borders and nothing to fight for. Citizens of every country are all  –  all we want is to strive for peace and fulfillment of humankind’s potential. 

Picture: Credit: AP / Chiang Ying-ying

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