Living with Mother Nature, Not Fighting Her


2009 / 11月

Coral Lee /tr. by David Smith

"The question I've been asking is: why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?"

The Age of Stupid, by British director Franny Armstrong, is a docu-drama that premiered in September. Set in the year 2055 after runaway climate change has wiped out much of the world population, it shows Las Vegas buried in sand, the Sydney Opera House in flames, and a deserted Taj Mahal. The only remaining records of human civilization are stored in the Global Archive, a repository of human knowledge located in the Arctic. Sighing sadly, the archivist presses a rewind button on a touch screen to show scenes from the past, including Hurricane Katrina, the promotion of a low-cost airline in India, and the plundering by major petroleum companies of third-world oil resources.

In Taiwan, meanwhile, Typhoon Morakot wrought historic devastation this past August. For more than a decade now, typhoons have caused repeated havoc year after year-people buried in mudslides, levees undercut by flood waters, riverside hotels toppled, roads washed out, bridges swept away, low-lying coastal areas inundated as far as the eye can see.... One can't help sighing just like the archivist in the movie, and ask: Why doesn't Taiwan save itself? Why is it that the more flood control work we do, the worse the flooding gets?

But experts have long been warning of problems.

The government sowed the seeds of environmental destruction years ago with policies to encourage the exploitation of mountain forests. In more recent years, pressured by the demands of a voting public that cares first and foremost about making money, the government has stood idly by and countenanced overuse of the hills. Farm fields, orchards, and bed-and-breakfast inns generate increased erosion pressure, but the government has simply responded by building check dams and riverbank revetments to stabilize the soil. Further downstream, land-hungry localities put up levees that only exacerbate flooding, which prompts the building of even higher levees and bigger pumping stations to protect private property.

Lack of environmental consciousness enabled hot springs resort operators to keep a straight face recently as they called upon the government to extend revetments higher up on the banks of gravely threatened waterways, without stopping for a moment to think what a total waste of effort it all would be. Lack of environmental consciousness enabled fish farmers operating in illegally occupied flood zone land to keep a clear conscience as they beat up law enforcement officials who tried to prevent them from repairing fish ponds damaged in the flooding triggered by Typhoon Morakot. Their justification? All the losses they had suffered! Hapless officials from the various river management offices, if they knew what was good for them, made themselves scarce.

For a half century now, in the tug-of-war between environmental interests and people hustling to make a buck, the "hustlers" have been perennial winners.

To be sure, all the resorts in the Lushan hot springs district were already in business prior to the enactment of planning legislation, so the proprietors do indeed deserve some sympathy. If the government hadn't gone out of its way to lease land on the Gaoping River flood plain to farmers and fish farming operations, how would the situation have ever gotten so far out of hand? Taiwan has extracted wealth from its natural environment, and earned great praise for this success, but it has come at a terrible price. The historic legacy of our society is a ravaged landscape.

Now, a bruised and tattered Taiwan must somehow come up with a response to the external threat of climate extremes. How are we to deal in a level-headed manner with the limitations of our natural environment, and learn to put the environment first among our priorities?

Some hope that, by reorganizing the government and passing a National Land Planning Act, we can replace a thicket of conflicting legal provisions, assign clear-cut responsibilities to different units of government, and eliminate gray areas. This is the only way, in their view, to get at the root of land use problems and break through the bureaucratic impasse whereby different government agencies each look after their own turf but fail to work together toward any common purpose.

Others see a need to create a platform for communication between government, the business community, the general public, and environmental groups, and argue that without such communication, a beautifully crafted National Land Planning Act handed down from on high will simply be ignored just like all the other laws that have preceded it. In the Netherlands, when the authorities sought to get tulip farmers in low-lying coastal areas to relocate further inland, the government engaged in an exhaustive effort to communicate with the farmers, and this approach eventually bore fruit. In Taiwan, efforts to get the residents of environmentally threatened villages in mountain and coastal areas are doomed to failure if we do not communicate closely with the locals. Just saying in a law that the authorities "may, if necessary, force a village to relocate" doesn't mean that it is actually going to happen.

Some feel the key to the solution lies in rearranging our priorities. Where we are currently human-centered, they look for a switch to environment-centered values. In the past, when petrochemicals and other industries didn't have ready access to enough water for their needs, the government would simply blow up mountains and reroute rivers to get it to them. With swarms of mainland tourists now coming to Taiwan, we take delight in the money they spend here, yet give nary a thought to whether our environment can handle the extra load. But the environment has now launched an all-out counteroffensive. One disaster follows another. People in Taiwan have woken up to the reality that mankind cannot get the better of nature. All we can do is respect, fear, and defer to it.

What about you? What is your reaction to the government's recent decision to start collecting an energy tax and a carbon tax, and raise the prices of gasoline and electricity? Should we not refrain from the indignant criticism that's been heard from all quarters? Is it not time to set aside our myopic pursuit of quick profits? To curb global warming, energy must be conserved and carbon emissions reduced. But by whom? To lessen the impact of natural disasters, our land resources must be protected. Again, by whom? These responsibilities do not rest solely with the government, or with the victims of natural disasters. Each and every one of us must do our part.



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英國導演法蘭妮.阿姆斯壯執導、9月上映的紀錄片《愚蠢年代》,描述 2055年地球被失控的氣候幾近毀滅:賭城拉斯維加斯為大片黃沙覆蓋、雪梨歌劇院被熊熊火焰燃燒、泰姬瑪哈陵宛如死城,僅有位於北極的儲藏設施還存留著人類檔案記錄。「全球檔案館」的管理員從螢幕中調閱一幕幕過往檔案,包括美國卡崔娜颶風災難、印度大力發展平價航空公司、各大石油公司對第三世界巧取豪奪……,不禁發出深沈的喟嘆。















9月に上映されたフラニー・アームストロング監督の作品「The Age of Stupid」に描かれるのは2055年の地球の姿だ。地球の気候は大きく変わり、ラスベガスは砂漠に埋もれ、シドニーのオペラハウスは炎に包まれ、タージマハールも埋もれ、北極の貯蔵施設にだけ人類の記録が残されている。その資料館の館員は、モニターに映し出されるハリケーン・カトリーナの災害やインドが大々的に推進した低運賃の航空会社、第三世界で資源を奪い合う石油メジャーなどのファイルを見て、こう嘆く。











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