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Taiwanese Temples Cut Down On Incense To Fight Pollution

Incense, “ghost money,” and pyrotechnics generate a surprising amount of smoke.

Visitors to Taipei City's Lungshan Temple pray for good luck in the New Year.

Visitors to Taipei City’s Lungshan Temple pray for good luck in the New Year. (Photo: L. Chang/Public Domain)

Religious worship in Taiwan is a heady experience. The air in and around temples is wreathed with smoke, as visitors light incense and burn paper “ghost money.” Festivals and pilgrimages merit barrages of fireworks. “The traditional belief is that the more firecrackers and incense used, the sincerer the faithful will appear,” temple director Chiu Jainn-fuh told Agence France-Presse recently.

But as more and more studies link religious celebrations to air pollution, some temples are reconfiguring their celebrations to cut down on waste, AFP reports.

The Taoist Nan Yao, in Changhua, has replaced real pyrotechnics with prerecorded firework CDs, and encourages followers to amp up the sound by clapping. Dajia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung has suggested worshippers bring compostable dedications, like fruit and flowers. Two temples have banned paper offerings outright, while others ship bushels of them to a central incinerator that filters the smoke.

This year, activists called on New Taipei City to slim down their annual Lantern Festival, and to replace the omnipresent giant, wire-framed flying lanterns with smaller, eco-friendly ones, Taipei Times reported.

Not everyone is sold on the new normal. Instead of sticking with clapping, many worshippers now just bring their own firecrackers. Facebook comments on the temples’ pages point out that there are many other sources of pollution authorities might more productively focus on—industrial waste, and overspill from mainland China.

But those pushing for the changes believe their way will win out. “Sincerity matters the most and the gods will bless us,” one visitor told AFP.

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