Mon, Mar 08, 2004 - Page 2 News List

A sustainable future is crucial

LIVELIHOOD THREATENED Environmental groups say politicians should focus more on the environment and address issues that could lead to suffering for Taiwan's people

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The wetlands along Kinmen's shore have not been designated as preservation areas.

PHOTO: CHIU YU-TZU, TAIPEI TIMES

With the presidential election campaign in full swing, most environmentalists and community-based social activists wonder if any camp will be ensuring Taiwanese people's sustainable future.

What triggered them to speak up about this issue was the political camps' performance in recent campaign activities. From television debates to political rallies, environmental and sustainable development issues have not been addressed. Some of the influential leaders of civic groups, however, were not surprised at all.

"The presidential elections in most other countries focus on the people's livelihood. But unsolved problems about both national identity and the constitutional system hamper candidates' discussion on social justice-related problems, such as environmental protection and ecological preservation," said Sam Lin (林聖崇), head of the Ecology Conservation Alliance.

In terms of sustainable development, Lin said that both parties' candidates gave random answers to questions raised by environmental groups because political figures clearly know that economic development is a useful tool to please voters.

Taking as an example the proposed construction of the 86km-long Suao-Hualien freeway, which costs NT$96.2 billion, Lin said that both camp compete with each other in terms of the project's efficiency. While the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) launched the construction in December, assuring the project's completion in 2011, the pan-blue camp pledged to have the construction carried out and completed within eight years.

Providence University vice president Chen Yueh-fong (陳玉峰), a 52-year-old ecologist who won last year's Presidential Cultural Award, said that the Suao-Hualien freeway controversy demonstrates that old-fashioned thinking about unlimited economic growth remained a criteria used by not only political figures but also most civil servants.

"It's a pity that the DPP made little effort in the past four years to establish an innovative civil service, whose inveteracy had been influenced by the former ruling party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)," Chen said.

Stubborn governmental officials resisting the DPP caused several major projects, which deserve to be reviewed in perspectives of global sustainable development, either to be suspended or carried out in environment-unfriendly ways, according to Chen.

Chen said that many construction projects carried out in central Taiwan after the devastating earthquake that claimed more than 2,400 lives on Sept. 21, 1999, were unnecessary.

"Why do they insist on restoring collapsed tracts of land and connecting damaged roads again? Building big roads along the Central Cross-island Highway was already a mistake," Chen said.

The government's lack of respect for ecologists and their knowledge in planning land use was not news, but it was regrettable that the strength of the social movement in Taiwan's civil society had been weakened since the DPP came into power four years ago.

As the appearance of an environmental movement in Taiwan was one of the byproducts of the rising political counterforce (in the late 1970s and early 1980s), the first political turnaround in Taiwan's history in 2000 incorporated a few environmental reformers into the government sector, Chen said.

At present, Chen said, a collision with conservative forces four years ago resulted in no outstanding performance in terms of sustainable development.

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