Saturday, July 23, 2005

Taiwan's Jack Problem

For some time now, there's been a tremendous exhibition of photos of Taiwan displayed in front of Cave's books, opposite the Science Museum, here in Taichung. The images I can't reproduce here, so you'll just have to go down and see for yourself, but some of the text (very informative) I can share with you:

(Paraphrasing)A professor from Chung Shan University reports that "The degree to which Taiwan's coastline is being done over in cement is shocking." There is an average of one concrete mini-port every 4-6 kilometers. This is especially striking given that the Taiwan fishing industry is in decline. Are all of these ports really necessary? In addition to impedeing coastal currents, "dams built on rivers impede the ability of the shoreline to replenish itself with sand, so it is necessary to provide concrete wave breakers to reinforce the tidal flats. Over half of Taiwan's coastline currently bristles with concrete wave breakers and seawalls." Another reason for these seawalls is apparently the encroaching seawater caused by excessive pumping of groundwater.

When I first arrived in Taiwan, I thought these ubiquitous concrete structures lining the coasts, shaped like jacks, were to deter the impending invasion of the island. H.L. Mencken's account of a train ride through Pennsylvania came to mind: such aesthetic destruction of that which is by default beautiful can only be ascribed to a willful inclination toward that which is unsightly and dispiriting - "a libido for the ugly." It seems the things are there simply on account of the general ecological destruction of the island. It's easy for me to rail against dams, sitting here lit up like a Christmas tree (the apartment, not me). What I do know is that the coasts of other countries are not marred by these things on this scale. Surely, (he asks plaintively), there must be a way to get rid of these jacks, and give us back the coasts?