Guam – Some may still be debating climate change, but in Taiwan it’s an accepted fact, driven home 3 years ago when Typhoon Morakot devastated the country. The event forced the the ROC government to take a hard look at how to deal with climate change.
August 2009, a tropical storm that passed near Guam ballooned into Typhoon Morakot. It slammed into Taiwan’s mountainous east coast. 789 people were left dead in its wake.
It was the rain, not the wind that proved most deadly.
A record 109 inches of rain fell over the 3 day period, flooding lakes and rivers, soaking the steep mountain slopes causing numerous landslides. In the village of Xaolin alone, more than 400 people died when the mountain slopes around their village let loose, and buried them.
Dr. Shaw Liu: “Climate change we found to be closely related, linked to extreme precipitation. we found large changes in extreme precipitation, and especially at low latitude.”
Dr. Shaw Liu leads the Research Center on Environmental Change at Taiwan’s most prestigious think-tank, the Acedemia Sinica. And he points out that its not the frequency of rainfall, but the intensity that has increased dramatically in recent years.
Dr. Shaw Liu: “50 years ago, very rarely can it happen. But now, the frequency of happening, compared to 50 years ago increased by a factor of more than 3. Although we can not say that Morakot was caused by global warming. We can say with global warming, the probability of occurrence has increased by a big factor.”
Paradoxically, Dr. Liu points out that while rainfall has become more intense, light to moderate rainfall has become more scarce, and the result is periods of extreme precipitation followed by drought.
Dr. Shaw Liu: “Increase in heavy precipitation has been reported over ever single continent, And even over the tropical ocean. And we all know that heavy precipitation can lead to more and worse flood. That’s a no brainer. But the light and moderate precipitation is more important because its a critical source of soil moisture. The decrease of light and moderate precipitation is going to increase the risk of drought.”
While some may still feel that the current period of climate change is part of the earth’s natural warming and cooling cycles, Dr. Liu believes the weight of the evidence indicates CO2 and other green houses gases have brought on the these changes.
Dr. Shaw Liu: “Right now there are few people who still believe there is no climate change. The question is whether this climate change may be natural. And there are quite a few people who still believe that. But if we keep looking at more and more evidence, it is quite clear its greenhouse gases.”
The annual per capita carbon emission in Taiwan is about 12 tons. That is roughly 3 times the 4 ton limit that scientists have determined is needed to stem the pace of global warming. But Dr. Liu has little confidence that Taiwan or any other nation, will reach that goal, without using alternative energy sources.
Dr. Shaw Liu: “Globally we should all come down to a little bit less than 4 tons. So we are 3 times over that. And I think by re-cycling … we can at most cut from 12 to 10 tons. To get from 10 to 4 tons, it has to come from alternative energy, low carbon energy.”
Ironically, the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinitubo has given scientists a unique idea. The ash cloud from that eruption circled the earth and lowered global temperatures for several years. Dr. Liu and other scientists believe that in the near future, efforts will get under way to to create the same effect, artificially, in a process known as geo-engineering.
Dr. Shaw Liu: “I think what would happen is putting air pollutant .. aerosols .. into the stratosphere. We can do that quickly and efficiently and decrease the temperature immediately. I think that will be done in the future … that’s an easy way out.”
But the long term, low carbon, solution is nuclear power.
Dr. Shaw Liu: “The only possibility, practical, is go nuclear. But politically that’s bad because the Japan Tsunami, that just totally broke the confidence here in Taiwan about nuclear energy.”
Q: “So despite Fukashima, you would still recommend nuclear energy?
Dr. Shaw Liu: “Yes.”