Protecting nature is not political

By Andy Tung 董建宏  / 

Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - Page 8

Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) holds the highest position in the government as far as the nation’s environmental matters are concerned. Last week, during a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Central Standing Committee meeting, Shen lambasted environmental groups and celebrity activists, saying that they were “politically affiliated.” As a member of one of those environmental groups, I feel it is important to point out that Shen’s comments here are further proof that Taiwan’s democracy has regressed to the conservative ways of the Martial Law era, and that the state apparatus is once again serving the interests of the capitalists and big business.

First, for Shen, as a ministerial-level government official, to express such views within an internal meeting of a political party not only goes against ministerial propriety and professional bounds, it is also contemptuous of the constitutionally provided rights of assembly and association of citizens of this country. Taiwan is a democracy governed according to the rule of law. Unless I am very much mistaken, its citizens enjoy the constitutional right to assemble and debate public policy pursuant to their own interests. Shen is criticizing others from within a political organization, but surely that shows that he himself is “affiliated” — or central — to a certain political organization.

Second, Shen was being disingenuous when he said that environmental groups were being inconsistent in their criticisms of the Taitung Miramar Resort Village project and the Yoho Beach Resort project in Pingtung County. Both of these projects are of environmental-protection concern and the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (台灣環保聯盟) has questioned the local governments’ role, pointing out where they have been unreasonable in the manner they have dealt with the projects’ environmental impact assessments to the detriment of the interests of the public and the nation as a whole.

Also, why is it up to the EPA minister to have the final say on which project is legal and which illegal? Given that this country is supposed to be run according to the rule of law, how can he contend that members of the public seeking to address environmental disputes through the courts have “a specific standpoint” or that they are “opposing central government”? This kind of attitude, where a politician equates himself with the state, is truly distressing.

Third, Shen’s choice of words when talking of the environmental activists — “affiliated” and “certain elements” — without giving specific names, reminds one of how the military strongman and former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) embarked on a smear campaign of environmental activists — calling them “environmental thugs” — back in the 1990s, when the KMT government attempted to put a stop to protests targeting environmental issues.

At the time, Hau and his colleagues in the Cabinet used the government’s control over the media to misrepresent residents and protesters, who were simply expressing their pent-up dissatisfaction and anger over environmental pollution and destruction, as greedy and cynical thugs trying to get their hands on state compensation. Many years later, when we look back at the era over which Hau presided, we can clearly see how the powers-that-be, in order to secure their own interests and those of the capitalists, thought nothing of sacrificing Taiwan’s environment.

In his Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣), Taiwanese director Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) showed scenes of ravaged land and ecological desolation, which are the result of the government’s development push during the Hau era.

When Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and the current Cabinet saw the devastation in Beyond Beauty, Shen was obliged to observe the hardships of those environmental activists and groups — in his own words, “certain politically affiliated elements” — who worked to protect Taiwan’s natural heritage and safeguard the beautiful island that has been handed down to us by previous generations. Had it not been for the sacrifices and efforts of these individuals, we would now be left with precious little to pass on to subsequent generations.

Republic of China founding father Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) once said that politics is the concern of the people. Similarly, the environment is a public issue that concerns the lives and the very survival of the public and of future generations. There is no such thing as someone being “affiliated” with someone else when they fight to protect the environment: There is only whether or not we are prepared to allow the treasured natural heritage bequeathed to us by our forebears to be commandeered by certain selfish politicians and corporations.

Andy Tung is the secretary-general of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union.

Translated by Paul Cooper