Quantifying the non-quantifiable



Pei-Ing Wu


Professor of the department of Agriculture Economics,
National Taiwan University

Translated by Editor of Taipei Times
Taipei Times, September 3, 2010. Page 8.





Recently, academics and members of Taiwan’s medical profession made a joint call against the building of the Kuokuang Petrochemical Park and the fifth-stage expansion of Formosa Plastics Group’s sixth naphtha cracker. The Taipei High Administrative Court also recently ruled that the third and fourth-stage expansion project of the Central Taiwan Science Park must be stopped.

There were also calls recently from the artistic community to save the wetland areas at the 202 Munitions Works site in Taipei City’s Nangang District (南港) and to stop the near-­expropriation of the wetlands in Tianliaoyang Village (田寮洋), followed by protests among residents living near the sixth naphtha cracker who say the compensation offered by Formosa Plastics Corp after the recent accidents at the plant are insufficient.

Apart from showing public anger about lack of transparency and being unable to take part in related proceedings, this series of protests also highlights how the authorities are unable to understand how to protect the greater environment and specific wetlands. It also shows that they ignore the value of agricultural resources.

What is the value of wetlands, environmental protection and protecting agricultural resources, and who stands to benefit from this value? When a nation’s income levels are low, people are of course preoccupied with feeding themselves and it is easy to see how wetlands are turned into garbage dumps while environmental protection remains an extravagant and lofty ideal.

Farmlands are a vital resource. The vast majority of us do not live off the land, yet we still benefit from the food produced and the culture that derives from farming, and enjoy the greenery that farmland areas afford us.

When national incomes reach a certain level, expectations about the quality of the environment increase and we begin to pay more attention to the quality of life. People start to think about wetland conservation and the preservation of black-faced spoonbills and the hundreds of other bird species that fly through these areas. They also begin to show concern for maritime resources, such as the humpback dolphin. People begin to debate the relative merits of preserving the fish farms and farmlands they rely on, or allowing the establishment of industrial areas on that land to improve the local economy and create more employment opportunities.