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Friday, February 23, 2024

The God Flower Chronicles: Climate Change & the Battle for Tradition

In the enchanting mist-shrouded landscapes of Alishan, central Taiwan, thrives a flower that serves as a sacred conduit to the divine—the Dendrobium orchid, colloquially known as the God Flower among the indigenous Tsou people. Clustering in groups of 10 to 20 on lustrous green canes, this orchid boasts a mesmerizing yellow hue with a velvety orange-fringed core, an aesthetic marvel devoid of fragrance. Yet, to the Tsou, it is an indispensable element of their ceremonies, a key to connecting with the gods.

The God Flower’s Spiritual Significance

In the heart of Tsou rituals, the God Flower plays a pivotal role. Tribal elder Gao Desheng solemnly asserts, “My tribe has to have the God Flower for our ceremonies. Otherwise, God won’t be able to find us.” Once abundant outside Tsou homes, the God Flower now eludes easy discovery. Tsou communities venture deeper into the mountainous realms, sometimes scaling trees in their quest, attributing the flower’s scarcity to climate change.

The Climate Change Conundrum

The Tsou’s belief is rooted in a specific climatic requirement—the necessity for winter temperatures to plunge below 12°C to enable bud formation, ensuring a springtime bloom. Greenpeace, drawing on data from the Alishan Weather Station, contends that global warming has caused a gradual rise in minimum temperatures during autumn and winter over the last decade. This shift jeopardizes the delicate ecological balance supporting the God Flower.

Beyond Rituals: Impact on Livelihoods

The predicament extends beyond spiritual rituals. Taiwan, as a whole, faces escalating droughts and warmer weather. Typhoons, vital for water supply, sometimes fail to make landfall, leading to crop failures. Jui-Chiao Chung, a farmer from the Tsou community, reflects on the impact—continuous droughts force her to adapt crops. Bamboo yields have plummeted, compelling her to switch to coffee cultivation. Yet, climate change persists; darker coffee beans signal higher temperatures, translating into immediate income reduction after a poor harvest.

Adapting to Unpredictability

While Jui-Chiao Chung can alter crops, the Tsou people lack such flexibility concerning the God Flower. Elder Gao Desheng expresses his concerns, emphasizing that if the flower vanishes, there is no substitute for their rituals. Climate change’s toll on their way of life remains unaddressed by politicians, despite periodic visits during the ongoing presidential campaign.

The Urgency of Action

As the Tsou people grapple with an existential threat to their traditions, political inertia persists. Greenpeace labels candidates as “climate snails,” highlighting the sluggishness in formulating sustainable environmental policies. The renewable energy goals proposed by presidential candidates fall short of meeting net-zero emissions, leaving the Tsou people racing against an invisible adversary—time.

In conclusion, the God Flower’s fate intertwines with the larger narrative of climate change, tradition, and the urgent need for effective environmental policies. As the Tsou community battles to preserve their sacred link with the divine, the world watches, and the clock ticks inexorably towards an uncertain future.

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