This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. In 1962, the renowned marine biologist wrote the book based on a wealth of scientific evidence that she collected, which proved that the abuse of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethan) and other pesticides adversely affected the environment. She said that if the use of such pesticides was not controlled, springs with singing birds and fragrant flowers would disappear and human health would be jeopardized.
At the time, Carson had been diagnosed with breast cancer and two years after the book’s release, in 1964, she died. Following publication, the book came under heavy attack from the chemical industry, which accused her of being both ignorant and hysterical.
As the US environmental movement started to develop, many countries passed legislation banning DDT, and scientists and government agencies started to research and control the use of various toxicants.
Rereading the book today, half a century after it was first published, one finds that her beautiful language still clearly conveys her concern about the effects of environmental pollution.
In Taiwan, the environmental movement only found room to develop following the lifting of martial law in 1987. It has since then had to face a difficult challenge as the government has made industrial development a national priority since World War II.
One example of this focus on industrialization is the National Industrial Development Conference held by the Ministry of Economic Affairs on Monday and Tuesday last week.
Although representatives from environmental and labor groups were invited to participate, the consensus statement that Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) read at the closing ceremony failed to include any opinions voiced by these groups.
At the conference, environmental group representatives had to speak loudly to make themselves heard over the government officials, who were given microphones. Afterward, this behavior was interpreted by the media as the environmentalists “shouting” at government officials.
That same Tuesday, at the Ministry of Culture’s 2012 Humanities International Speakers Series, Michael Sandel, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University, was invited to give a lecture on the topic: “What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets.” The event drew more than 6,000 listeners to the National Taiwan Univeristy Sports Center for a discussion on justice.
Sandel said that at their core, many problems involve moral and political issues and such problems cannot be resolved through economic means alone. One must consider the essence of the problem and discuss it rationally in order to determine what role the market can play. He called on the audience to think seriously about and rationally discuss public issues that are controversial in nature.
Throughout the wet and cold winter days, Taiwan’s environmental and labor activists are waiting for the arrival of spring.
Hopefully, it will be joyous with birds singing and fragrant flowers blooming, and nobody will have to shout loudly when discussing controversial public issues.
It seems the nation and government agencies need to engage in earnest discussion about Taiwan’s industrial development policy.
Lin Yi-ping is an associate professor in the Institute of Science, Technology and Society at National Yang-Ming University.