Environmental Activism in Taiwan
The world of Taiwanese environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is still relatively new and is constantly evolving. NGOs are still trying to find their proper relationship with the government, the people, and corporations. Since the late 1980s, Taiwanese green NGOs have led projects, protests, and watchdog activities that have had a major role in shaping pollution control and conservation policies. Unlike many of their mainland counterparts, Taiwanese environmental NGOs have frequently clashed openly with the government and industries. At this September 8, 2009 China Environment Forum and Asia Program co-sponsored meeting, speakers from the Taiwanese Environmental Information Association (TEIA) talked about their experiences in the Taiwanese environmental world.
First, Yu-Hua (Joyce) Lan, project manager of the TEIA, gave an overview of TEIA as an organization. She explained that the main goal is to be an independent media source, disseminating news through their website which serves as both information source and discussion forum that is free of government influence. This independence, according to TEIA, is the major issue in environmental news reporting in Taiwan; the mainstream media all too often reports only the position of the government and corporations. Through their website, TEIA gives the public another platform to contribute and seek environmental information. The website receives over 19,000 visitors a day and contains over 60,000 records of environmental information. The information collected consists of everything from news articles to blog posts and tries to touch on any and all environmental issues
In addition to its informative work, TEIA has several projects that are designed to have an on-the-ground direct positive effect on Taiwanese environment. One example of these projects is the "eco-working holidays" which are eco-volunteer opportunities for people on vacation. These holidays give volunteers a chance to work directly in environmental cleanup efforts, such as removing invasive species from a protected wildlife area. Another example of the projects carried out by TEIA is their environmental citizen journalist training program. This program strives to increase both average citizens' awareness of environmental issues and individual contributions to the TEIA site by recruiting hundreds of average citizens to attend workshops that train them to become amateur environmental reporters.
Although TEIA is a Taiwan-based organization, it tries to extend its influence beyond Taiwan's borders, especially into mainland China. Jung-hong (Daniel) Yi elaborated on some TEIA's cross-strait environmental journalist exchanges. While it is politically sensitive for mainland journalists to participate in environmental forums in Taiwan, many pay their own way to do attend, which Jung-Hong felt signifies an important step towards cross-strait cooperation and learning. TEIA has also organized university student workshops in mainland China to talk about citizen environmental empowerment and chemical pollution.
The overall goal of these activities is to promote dialogue between the mainland and Taiwan. However, governments on both sides of the Taiwan Straits place limitations on NGO visits from mainland to Taiwan, which is a limitation to such grassroots networking.
Finally, Rei-hsiang (Ray) Pong talked about TEIA's work with the recovery efforts from the August 8, 2009 Typhoon Morakot in which over 687 people died, 76 were missing, and 24,950 were evacuated from their homes. In one village alone, 160 people were buried alive. In addition to the cost of human life, the typhoon caused over $3.7 billion in damages and caused massive flooding, landsides, and deforestation. Infrastructure, roads and buildings were severely damaged. The government's response, according to Mr. Pong, was slow and insufficient, and many Taiwanese citizens lost their confidence in the government's ability to handle emergencies. TEIA responded to the crisis by building a webpage to promote discussion and civil participation in the post-typhoon reconstruction, focusing on the debate regarding the Post-Typhoon Reconstruction Special Act. The Act, which was written in eight days and passed in just three, worried TEIA staff, because it does not have provisions for environmental impact assessments or labor laws. Moreover, the act has forced indigenous people to resettle outside of their homelands. Mr. Pong stressed the fact that although the disaster impacted so much of the environment, it should be highlighted that the disaster was made worse by existing environmental degradation. Thus, it is vital that environmental issues be integrated into the reconstruction plan so the government does not make the same mistake twice.
Mr. Pong concluded TEIA's talk by stating that he feels there is conflict between GDP growth, employment, and the environment; which mostly is based upon an unbalanced relationship between the people, the government, and corporations. TEIA believes that in Taiwan corporations benefit while environmental expenses are shouldered by local residents, which is unfair. Thus, environmental problems are the surface-level reflections of deeper issues of social inequity, and TEIA works to restore balance to society by empowering people with information.