Taking pride in eco-diversity
In a recent Taipei Times article, artist Jane Ingram Allen made a noteworthy comment about how people living near the Chenglong Wetlands have changed their attitude toward the protection of the area: “When I first came here, [the villagers] saw the wetlands only as a bad thing … but now it is very popular … and people come to watch them. They are feeling more pride in their own place.” (“Art on the marsh,” May 4, page 12).
Only recently have conservationists around the world realized that a sense of pride may be an underused tool in preserving endangered species and ecosystems.
For a long time, conservationists focused on two other arguments to convince people to protect irreplaceable species and ecosystems: intrinsic and monetary values.
Intrinsic values emphasize that plants and animals enrich our lives by providing educational, intellectual and recreational opportunities, aesthetic and spiritual enjoyment and a sense of identity.
A healthy environment is thus fundamental to a good life. Conservation and sustainable biodiversity thus becomes an ethical issue of moral conduct toward other life forms and in relation to fellow human beings and cultures.
On the other hand, monetary values were summarized under the clunky term of “ecosystem services,” but despite that ecosystems provide more wealth for free than the entire human economy produces (“The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital,” Nature, Vol. 387, pages 253-260), not much progress has been made in convincing either local people or decisionmakers that conservation is a worthwhile exercise.
Enter pride. In many localities around the world, conservationists have been teaching people that their local wildlife species are unique and exist nowhere else — a fact which often came as a total surprise to people.
Awareness through education has led people to take pride in what had suddenly become something special.
Taiwanese conservationists are also increasingly using education and pride to rescue species from possible extinction. After the sad news that the clouded leopard is almost certainly extinct in Taiwan (“Formosan leopard extinct: zoologists,” May 1, page 4), the same team of conservationists are now focusing on saving a much smaller leopard cat from a similar fate.
Part of this effort is to make the leopard cat a mascot for Miaoli County. By adopting the leopard cat as a mascot, local knowledge and pride are improved, and eventually some money may be generated via eco-tourism.
Too much of Taiwan already looks like any other urban or rural development in the world: faceless concrete buildings and highways, global chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks, monotonous and lifeless plantations. It is high time that we take pride in what makes Taiwan unique — that which is irreplaceable.
Just like Longshan Temple and the Palace Museum protect the unique cultural heritage of Taiwan, protecting the white dolphin, blue magpie or leopard cat should not be seen as an impediment to ultimately self-destructive economic growth, but as a proud symbol of protecting what makes this nation unique and beautiful.