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EiJ Photo Essay: Yunlin County, Taiwan

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Image: Collage of Yunlin County

1. What is the setting of this case? What are its assets?

Yunlin County (雲林縣, population 670,000) is a county located in western Taiwan. An estimated 68% of Yunlin are farmland, situated within the Chianan Plain, the largest plain on the island. The county is well known for its agriculture, livestock, and rich fishing grounds (Wikipedia 2021).

Important landmarks are the Xilou Bridge and the Chaotian Temple, the main temple for worshipping Mazu, the Sea Goddess (Taiwan Tourism Bureau 2021).

This case study primarily focuses on Mailiao, a rural township in the northwest of the county which is home to intense industrial production, but also a series of environmental advocacy groups, including the Yunlin County Neritic Zone Aquaculture Association (雲林縣淺海養殖協會). Important community assets and sites of organizing are Gongfan Temple and the independent café and bookstore 麥仔簝獨立書店.  

Image: Sixth Naphtha Cracker 1999.11 雲林六輕

2. What environmental threats are there in this setting?

Rapid industrialization has been a key development in Taiwan after the lifting of martial law in 1987, leading to issues of waste disposal, deforestation, and emissions of polluting industries, especially semiconductor and petrochemical production (Grano 2015).

There have been several studies of environmental health related to Formosa Plastics’ Sixth Naphtha Cracker Complex, documenting high air pollution burden on Mailiao and Taixi townships (Lin et al. 2020)

Further, recent research has further focused both on the impact of climate change in Yunlin County, including both erosion of coastlines and flood risk (Lee & Lin 2020), as well as dramatic water shortages related to intense water demands for agriculture and the electronics industry (Huang et al. 2011), compounded by sustained droughts since 2020 (USDA 2020).

Image: Soil Liquefaction Potential Maps, Yunlin County

3. What intersecting factors -- social, cultural, political, technological, ecological -- contribute to environmental health vulnerability and injustice in this setting?

The bar chart (left, WRA, retrieved on June 1, 2021) shows the rate of stratum subsidence in various counties and cities in Taiwan in 2019. Yunlin County is 6.5 cm/year, the highest in Taiwan. Pingtung County has the largest cumulative total of 3.58 meters, followed by Yunlin County at 2.60 meters, and Changhua County ranked third at 2.52 meters. 

The surface soil layer with loose soil and water-saturated soil not only has an amplifying effect on ground motions, but also may cause soil liquefaction (see figure top right). If the soil liquefies, the above-ground structures may sink unevenly. After the soil liquefies, it will cause damage to buildings, roads, underground pipelines, and bridge piers. In this Figure, thee dark blue area is the continuous sinking area, and the light blue area is the past sinking area (Figure bottom right, Groundwater Monitoring Network).

On its website, the Yunlin County Environmental Protection Bureau points to both a lack of “civic responsibility and moral courage” among the general public as well as attempts by “businessmen” to bypass environmental impact assessments as factors that negatively impact environmental protection in the region (EPB Yunlin County 2021). The latter aligns with Grano’s (2015) analysis that – despite renewed fervor within the environmental movement in recent years – “old clientele networks” are still favoring big business.

In Yunlin County and Mailiao Township, the emigration of young people, so-called “northern drifters”, has led to an aging and therefore more vulnerable population.

This graph shows that the crime rate (residential theft) in Yunlin County ranks fourth in the country, 6.69 people per 100,000 people. Source: Ministry of the Interior.

Talk Script: Archiving Against Petro - Archive Ethnography as Tactic

What is the world we have observed? We are interested in understanding what kind of data capacities and data infrastructures are needed to support "the long game" of transnational environmental activism against petrochemical expansion in the US, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In that...Read more

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