Thursday, May 13, 2010

White Egrets or Biotech Parks?

White Egrets or Biotech Parks?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
May 13, 2010

Arsenal Number 202 has made 25 hectares of land available to the Academia Sinica for the construction of a national biotechnology park. Author Chang Hsiao-feng however, penned an article entitled "Mr. President, Why can't I have two lungs?" He argued on behalf of the research park site ecosystem, hoping to discourage its construction. His article touched off another wave of debate over development vs. conservation.
President Ma, Premier Wu, and several cabinet ministers recently made several trips to Arsenal Number 202, in an apparent effort to win over Chang Hsiao-feng. Actually they ought to make an effort to communicate with and win over a diverse community holding a variety of views. They ought to provide the community with complete information, approach the problems in a rational light, reach a consensus, and solve them.

In 1985, residents of Lukang campaigned against DuPont. In 1989, residents of Ilan protested the Number Six Naphtha Cracking Project. In 1991, people in Taichung County organized large scale environmental protests against Bayer and others. Unfortunately the biotech park controversy has dragged on for almost 30 years. A price has been paid. Foreign capital has long refused to enter. Formosa Plastics fled to the U.S. and mainland China. But members of the public on Taiwan have never learned to engage in rational debate over development vs. conservation. They still resort to emotional appeals or government resources to get their way. They still attempt to force the other to back down. This approach makes it difficult to make use of society's collective wisdom.

It is hard to say how the 25 hectares of the Biotech Park and the 160 hectares of Arsenal Number 202 should be used. But our polarized society must learn civility. A sufficiently mature civil society will allow members to voice their opinions, to respect other's opinions, and to respect the final decision of the majority. Only then will the social price of the current controversy be worth it.

How should the arsenal land be used? What use will benefit the public the most? The answer is not that difficult. The three principles for the use of public resources are quite clear. Advanced nations have long-established procedures. Is not that difficult to examine the two parties' conflicting viewpoints, and to arrive at a decision.

The first of the three principles is that alternatives must be considered. If alternatives can be found for precious resources, the alternatives should be used first. Only if alternatives cannot be found, should valuable resources be used. The second principle is rarity. For example, gold is rarer than copper. Although its electrical conductivity and ductility are superior to copper's, we still use copper conductors. We do not rush to use gold wires. The third principle is that resources must be renewable. Taroko Gorge should be appreciated first for its natural beauty, which is inexhaustible, sustainable, and self-regenerating. It should not be exploited for its minerals. It should not be mined for its limestone to manufacture cement. Such uses are non-renewable.

The three principles for the use of public resources are clear. The public can examine Arsenal 202 land, arrive at decisions on which of the two uses makes the most sense, then reach a society-wide consensus. A biotech park? Or "lungs of the city?"

First consider a biotech park. The government should explain how biotechnology is the fourth industrial revolution. Biotechnology involves high value-added knowledge industries. It is an industry that can enable Taiwan to rise from the ashes. It is a "test-tube industry." Taiwan's ecosystem has a limited capacity to withstand environmental impacts. Petrochemical plants, cement plants, or steel refineries have far larger environmental footprints than biotechnology laboratories. That is why the development of biotechnology must be given priority. But the government must also explain why it must build on Arsenal Number 202 land? Many industrial areas on Taiwan are idle. Why can't they be used for a Biotechnology Park? Why can't one be located in Linkou?

Preserving the land in its pristine form as the city's lungs also makes sense. Arsenal Number 202 land is ecologically valuable, diverse, and whole. Preserving "shallow mountain ecosystems" at the juncture of urban and rural regions is important to the environmental health of urban areas. But Arsenal Number 202 has 185 hectares. Why can't we use 25 hectares for a biotechnology park? Why is a second lung more valuable to the public than the productivity of biotechnology?

Ensure that information is transparent. Allow the public to examine the facts and arrive at their own conclusions. The current controversy is the direct result of a lack of transparency. The Executive Yuan said nothing. The Academia Sinica failed to dialogue with the public. Why a biotech park, rather than some other kind of park? What will the biotech park do? Was the project custom tailored for Academia Sinica head Ong Chi-hui? What is the current status of the ecosystem? This information was not made available to the public. Even Academia Sinica researchers were not given the opportunity to participate. Only when the controversy erupted, did those in charge adopt a lower profile, and disclose a limited amount of information.

A lack of transparency led Chang Hsiao-feng to argue, "The government must not do things that will shorten our lives," and Premier Wu to counter, "If Taiwan is nothing but wetlands, how can the economy grow?" Both arguments are simplistic, and only confuse the issue.

No resolution to the standoff over the Arsenal Number 202 land use controversy is on the horizon. The outcome may be a compromise that strikes a balance between the two. It may be one alternative or the other. What's important is that the controversy compels the public to confront the problem rationally, and find a balance between environmental protection and economic development.

2010.05.13 02:10 am













No comments: