Fri, Jul 09, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : Dolphins might be smarter than Wu

On Wednesday, several groups of environmental activists and oyster farmers from Changhua County jointly applied to the government to set up a trust fund to purchase coastal wetlands near the estuary of the Jhuoshuei River.

The trust fund for public land — the first of its kind in this country if it is approved — is aimed at protecting the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and preserving the area’s unique ecosystem, which hosts a diversity of wildlife off Taiwan’s west coast.

According to the organizers, more than 31,000 people had signed up for the land-purchase drive as of Tuesday, subscribing 1.5 million shares of the fund worth NT$160 million (US$4.9 million) in total, which they said could buy up to 150 hectares of the most sensitive 200 hectares where Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Corp plans to construct a new naphtha cracker.

The first challenge facing the activists, of course, is whether the trust fund will be approved by the authorities, as currently there’s no particular law that could be applied to this fund and no one knows exactly which specific government agency would be in charge of overseeing it.

Without first clearing the legal uncertainties regarding the trust fund, activists may be left only to watch Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Corp proceed with the second stage of its environmental impact assessment of the planned naphtha cracker project.

However, what has caused more concern was a remark by Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) on Wednesday that dolphins should be able to “make a turn” to avoid a planned harbor for the shipment of petrochemical products in the area. According to local media reports, Wu said if the humpback dolphins could “make a turn” when moving toward Taichung Harbor, why couldn’t they do the same when swimming along the coastal area of Changhua County?

Mr Premier, no one would question the dolphins’ ability to learn to adapt to the environment, because they are probably one of the most intelligent aquatic mammals on Earth. Their ability to change course may indicate they are smarter than humans.

However, such remarks simply show the stereotypical mindset and underlying assumption that we human beings are much more important than nature and don’t need to care about how serious the petrochemical project’s impact is on this area.

Clearly, Wu favors the construction of the project. During his interview with two Chinese-language business dailies published on Wednesday, the premier said the Kuokuang project was a must for the nation’s economy. And later the same day, he told reporters that he was also worried that there would be a monopoly in the nation’s petrochemical sector under Formosa Petrochemical Corp without the planned project by Kuokuang, a subsidiary of state-run CPC Corp, Taiwan.

However, he has apparently turned a blind eye to increasing opposition to the project from 280 local academics over concern about its potential negative impact in terms of biodiversity loss, public health risk and increased greenhouse gas emissions, as well as dangers to water resources and the farming sector in the area.

With the whole world cutting greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming, Taiwan’s plan to build the Kuokuang petrochemical complex, coupled with the proposed expansion of Formosa’s sixth naphtha cracker in Yunlin County, looks bizarre and lamentable, only to be topped by the premier making such an absurd remark about dolphins. Of more concern is the nation’s international image over the increasingly important matter of environmental protection.

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