Fri, Sep 03, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Quantifying the non-quantifiable

By Wu Pei-ing 吳珮瑛

Recently, academics and members of Taiwan’s medical profession made a joint call against the building of the Kuokuang Petrochemical Park and the fifth-stage expansion of Formosa Plastics Group’s sixth naphtha cracker. The Taipei High Administrative Court also recently ruled that the third and fourth-stage expansion project of the Central Taiwan Science Park must be stopped.

There were also calls recently from the artistic community to save the wetland areas at the 202 Munitions Works site in Taipei City’s Nangang District (南港) and to stop the near-­expropriation of the wetlands in Tianliaoyang Village (田寮洋), followed by protests among residents living near the sixth naphtha cracker who say the compensation offered by Formosa Plastics Corp after the recent accidents at the plant are insufficient.

Apart from showing public anger about lack of transparency and being unable to take part in related proceedings, this series of protests also highlights how the authorities are unable to understand how to protect the greater environment and specific wetlands. It also shows that they ignore the value of agricultural resources.

What is the value of wetlands, environmental protection and protecting agricultural resources, and who stands to benefit from this value? When a nation’s income levels are low, people are of course preoccupied with feeding themselves and it is easy to see how wetlands are turned into garbage dumps while environmental protection remains an extravagant and lofty ideal.

Farmlands are a vital resource. The vast majority of us do not live off the land, yet we still benefit from the food produced and the culture that derives from farming, and enjoy the greenery that farmland areas afford us.

When national incomes reach a certain level, expectations about the quality of the environment increase and we begin to pay more attention to the quality of life. People start to think about wetland conservation and the preservation of black-faced spoonbills and the hundreds of other bird species that fly through these areas. They also begin to show concern for maritime resources, such as the humpback dolphin. People begin to debate the relative merits of preserving the fish farms and farmlands they rely on, or allowing the establishment of industrial areas on that land to improve the local economy and create more employment opportunities.

Environmental impact statements must evaluate the effects of a certain development project on the environment. More importantly, environmental impact assessments must record, analyze and assess the various effects of a development project and what sort of impact it will have on people and animals living in these environments.

However, that impact cannot be expressed with abstract, empty adjectives like big, small, serious or not serious, as such words are incapable of getting people to imagine potential threats. Today, those who will be affected by such projects are overlooked, whether on purpose or by accident, and their values are not expressed in the assessment. As a result, we lack the information required to decide how to proceed.

Tens of thousands of projects around the world since the mid-1970s have been assessed and researched regarding their value to the public in protecting and conserving the environment and resources. It is easy to calculate the monetary benefits and income derived from fishing, agriculture and industrial zones, but the benefits of wetland and environmental conservation, the public satisfaction resulting from the conservation of farmland and the losses caused by environmental destruction should also be measured and expressed in monetary terms.

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