[OUTLOOK]Still Not Too Late to Save Mount Gobong

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[OUTLOOK]Still Not Too Late to Save Mount Gobong

It is truly a blessing to have a mountain near an urban metropolis. While there are large public parks in cities abroad, none compares with a mountain. Fortunately, there is a mountain in the new suburban town Ilsan lying to the west of Seoul, which is a collection of apartment complexes built on what was formerly pristine nature. The peak of Mount Gobong is 209 meters above sea level and works as the "lung" of Ilsan residents.

I climb the mountain on holidays. Rice paddies, farmland, woods and mud fields on the path to the mountain are refreshing, even more than a decent workout. The other day, I read a news article about the Nature Studies Club, a group of school children in Ilsan, who discovered 15 kinds of rare species under protection by law on the hill. I myself spotted a child catching a rare bug designated by the government as a natural treasure.

In the back of my mind, I have always been concerned that this precious mountain may be bulldozed someday. And then on June 29, the Korea Housing Corp., which tends to see every piece of land in the country as something to be cemented, announced the so-called Housing Development Plan for the Second Ilsan District. The plan includes building some 6,300 apartment units on rice paddies, farmland, mud fields and even in a wood filled with chestnut trees on Mount Gobong. Naturally, civic groups in Ilsan fiercely oppose the plan.

While cynics may criticize me as a selfish person who advocates environmental protection only in my own neighborhood, I am equally concerned about swamps in Changnyeong, South Kyongsang province, swamps in Kangwon province, tidal land near Ganghwa Island, the Dong River, and the ecosystem in Bam Island adjacent to Seoul's Yeouido islet. Kim Won, an architect, recently proposed to preserve the home of the late poet Seo Jeong-ju. Regardless of the criticism lodged against Mr. Seo for his controversial behavior during Japanese occupation, I concur with Mr. Kim on preserving Mr. Seo's Seoul residence.

What needs to be protected is not just nature but also cultural properties that are in danger of being wiped out. If possible, I want to preserve even the Cheongjin-dong area in downtown Seoul where small old restaurants which serve hangover reliefs soups and octopus dishes prepared in traditional recipe. But it would be irresponsible to advocate preservation of everything no matter what. Also, blaming the government for everything and holding it responsible for environmental damage is not right. Blaming local governments, which often lack financial resources, is also wrong.

If one wishes to preserve things, one needs to be equipped with a persuasive logic that prevents development and channels resources to finance protection programs. Idealistic and abstract arguments are bound to be defeated by more realistic arguments of the developmental advocates. While the idea that nature and human beings are one is important, emphasizing the monetary value of preserving nature and cultural properties would be a more convincing logic and would lead to securing the financial resources necessary for protection.

The research conducted on the monetary value of preserving nature by the economics institute at Korea University is a good basis for initiating an argument for protection. According to the study, the Upo swamp in Changnyeong, South Kyongsang province, provide per-year 56 billion won ($43 million) worth benefits, if preserved. Consequently, if someone wished to develop the swamp area, then they would need to prove that doing so would generate more money than 56 billion won a year.

Moreover, it is necessary to make it a rule that all development proposals should be made only after the comparison between the value of development and that of preservation are made before they are finalized. Such a rule would substantially reduce reckless development that ruins nature.

Every year, 11.3 million hectares of ecological resources disappear throughout the world. In Korea, forests ten times the size of Yeouido are being bulldozed every year. Just like the Korea Housing Corp.'s move on Mount Gobong, precious nature is disappearing because development projects are being approved without first comparing the value of development and the value of preservation.

We still have time to suppress the argument for development with an adequate assessment of what preserving nature and cultural properties would guarantee. Garnering public support for raising the funds necessary for preservation is also important.

Despite this, the government and the National Assembly are all engaged in a power struggle of their own. I hope they realize soon nature's value for us all.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Sung-sam

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