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Thu, Apr 22, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Earth Day: In loving the Earth, talk is often cheap

NEW CONCEPTS The DPP may be a reformist party, but NGO heads say it has dragged its feet in government on environmental protection, for the betterment of only a few


Residents of Changhua County's Hsienhsi township clean up a beach on Saturday to mark Earth Day, a global holiday celebrating the importance of biodiversity and environmental awareness.


For Taiwanese people, Earth Day is not a time to celebrate but to mobilize and take action because the government's package of measures for sustainable development might just turn out to be a fraud.

At today's 2004 National Conference for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in Taipei, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is scheduled to give the opening speech. Last week, Chen vowed to do his best to turn the nation into a leading gathering place for international NGOs and a place that could inculcate familiarity with international affairs in its NGO professionals.

Chen's talk today, however, will be followed by a keynote speech entitled "Seeing through the fraud of sustainable development" and delivered by Chen Yueh-fong (陳玉峰), a 52-year-old ecologist who won last year's Presidential Cultural Award.

"In Taiwan, when the government mentions sustainable development it seems to deceive people, because it remains trapped in myths about salvaging Taiwan's economy," Chen Yueh-fong told the Taipei Times.

Chen Yueh-fong, who is also president of the Taiwan Academy of Ecology, said that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has paid lip service to sustainable development and follows old-fashioned thinking about unlimited economic growth in coming up with its new development projects.

"Resuming construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, blazing ahead with unnecessary new roads, such as the Suao-Hualien freeway, and holding a host of superficial tourism promotions that lack serious reflection from the point of view of ecological preservation -- all this indicates that the government needs to be better educated," he said.

Citing the Tung Blossom Festival as an example of this, Chen Yueh-fong said it was absurd that a tree that caused an ecological disaster decades ago could then symbolize a festival promoting tourism.

The tung tree was planted in large numbers during the Japanese occupation because of its valuable timber and the water-resistant oil extracted from its seeds. But the tree also jeopardized endemic species, leaving irreparable ecological damage.

"Without paying attention to the delivery of accurate information and a well-researched history to the public, the government can only fail in providing environmental education," Chen Yueh-fong said.

Based on his observation of the environmental movement over the last four years, Chen said that a deteriorating environment was to be expected if no new concepts of ecological preservation were to be adopted by the DPP government.

He said he looked forward to seeing educational practices that empower not only individuals but also civic groups in implementing responsible ideas within Taiwan's democratic development.

He said that it was time, therefore, for NGOs to take the lead in responding to global trends of sustainable development.

Building links

Some local NGOs have already built links with influential international groups. The World Bird Federation Taiwan (WBFT) has been affiliated with BirdLife International for more than a decade and successfully helped the government on certain issues which ordinarily might suffer from its diplomatic isolation.

According to WBFT secretary-general Chiang Kuen-dar (江昆達), the federation's participation in a wildlife protection scheme in Sumatra over the last two years has resulted in welcome attention from the UK. Consequently, on June 17, Taiwan's representative to the UK, Tien Hung-mau (田弘茂), will attend a party held by Prince Charles.

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