Cracking open the black box(es) of plastics and climate change: A peek inside a global environmental crisis
Erich Hellmer／Academia Sinica Institute of Sociology Postdoctoral Researcher、Paul Jobin、Chee Wei Ying、Yu-An Kuo (Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica)
Plastics and climate change are often treated as separate environmental disasters. Plastics are framed as a problem of pollution, with enough plastics piling up across the surface of the earth to perhaps even constitute its own geological era: ‘the Plasticene’. Subsequently, efforts to curb environmental damage related to plastics have revolved around ‘end-of-life’ issues like recycling and consumer-targeted campaigns to reduce plastic product demand (especially for so-called ‘single-use plastics’). Scientific research on plastics’ effects has followed a similar trend – focusing heavily on the environmental and health impacts of plastic pollution and on the potential of various recycling programs and technologies. What is usually ignored, however, is the fact that 95% of plastics are made from fossil fuels through petrochemical processes, and that, as the fossil fuel industry faces increasing profit losses based on low-carbon advances in the energy and transportation sectors, coal, oil and gas industry leaders are openly looking to petrochemicals to keep their businesses alive in the coming decades. The cumulative effect of this is a projected growth in plastics production that will outpace total global GDP growth from now through 2050 – the date by which various governments (Taiwan included) have set zero or near-zero carbon goals. Large national and international NGOs and activist groups are beginning to take notice of this trend, and pointing out how the petrochemical industry will account for an increasingly large part of our global carbon budget to keep global warming to under 1.5 degrees by 2050 (the benchmark set by the Paris Climate Agreement). But plastics, which make the most important profit-maker driving petrochemical demand, remain enigmatically invisible in the climate crisis discourse. While plastics waste hold a high degree of visibility in NGOs and corporate narratives, the petrochemical industry maintains a low profile on the role of plastics in global heating. This paradox forms the basis of the research this paper explores. The paper will outline the methodology and early findings of a long-term research project exploring how the climate-plastics discourse has taken shape historically, and across national contexts. Using quantitative and qualitative web analysis, interviews and participant observation, the project at the core of this paper seeks to uncover the ways in which ‘climate change’ and ‘plastics pollution’ have become separately ‘black-boxed’, and the various ways that these black boxes are being opened and challenged by various actors in (and across) different parts of the world. The project begins the analysis of these issues through a case study of Formosa Plastics Group (FPG): the sixth largest petrochemicals corporation in the world with facilities in Taiwan, the US, China and multiple Southeast Asian countries.
關鍵字：Plastics, Petrochemical Industry, Climate Change, Governance,
劉玉皙／世新大學傳播管理學系 助理教授、佘健源／國立中山大學企管系 副教授、楊文茜／國立中山大學 碩士生、洪文玲／國立高雄科技大學造船及海洋工程學系 副教授
杜文苓／國立政治大學創新國際學院 教授、施佳良／國立政治大學公共行政學系 博士後研究員