Old habits die hard: although Taiwan has risen over the past few decades to become one of Asia's most modern and technologically advanced countries, folk religion and superstition have continued to remain integral components of the culture. Every year, during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, many Taiwanese citizens — both young and old — give offerings to the souls of the dead who, according to traditional beliefs, return to roam the world of the living. The Ghost Festival has become a surprisingly large source of air pollution due the massive amounts of paper money burned throughout the month.
The paper slips — which resemble actual bank notes and are gilded on one side generate a significant amount of pollution both during the manufacturing process and during consumption and have prompted concerns amongst local authorities about people's health and the environment. In Taipei County alone, the government estimates that 2,000 tons of the paper money are burned by approximately 3.7m residents. "That creates 2,000 tons of CO2, and benzol, toluene and other carcinogens are released in the process," said Lin Sung-chin, part of Taipei's environmental protection bureau.The government has begun to confront this problem over the last few years, offering worshippers the option of burning the slips on their behalf in incinerators since 2003 — which helped cut emissions by close to 350 tons in 2006. More interesting has been the Taipei authorities' new initiative to bring the burning of paper slips online, creating a virtual worship site where citizens can safely worship without generating the pollution associated with the real "joss" money.
While the website has already registered strong traffic so far, Sung-chin is concerned it may not prevent an estimated 20% of the population to cut down on the real thing. "Many computer-literate people who would not otherwise have worshipped may try it for the fun of it, especially as it's for free. But opinion polls have found that up to 20 per cent of the population regard burning ghost money as "absolutely necessary". These [people] we will not convince that quickly," he said.
Via ::Financial Times: Holy smoke goes virtual in modern Taiwan (newspaper)
See also: ::Crematorium Delays Burning Bodies to Cut CO2, ::Green Your Death - Efficient Cremations, ::More Eco-Friendly Funeral Pyres Introduced in India
Image courtesy of yangtzebu via flickr