[OUTLOOK]What's bad about development?Our economy is still the greatest matter of interest for us Koreans. This could mean that we do not yet feel affluent; we go from extreme to extreme, either getting flooded or suffering from water shortages, every summer. Yet, despite this, we stopped the Dong River dam project a few years ago without any alternative plans. We seem to be confident that information technology and the animation industry will sustain us, for we protest against factory smoke and clamor for more environment-friendly industry.
Heavy traffic jams clog the streets of Seoul and yet we hesitate on the Mount Bukhan expressway project because environmentalists oppose the government's plan to make the road go straight through the mountain. They should think about the extra fuel that will be used and the pollutants emitted should thousands of cars have to go around the mountain.
Conservation versus development is not a new issue, and we have heard the principle of "sustainable development" many times by now. But why does this simple principle lead to such complicated problems, especially in Korea?
Our civic groups have a tendency to use their collective power and ignore expert opinion or even the law. Experts have already said that the Dong River dam would not destroy the environment in the area. Experts have also agreed that the proposed Mount Bukhan expressway would not necessarily bring any serious damage to the surrounding environment. Still, fierce protests from pro-environment groups have halted one project and threaten to halt the other.
We have fallen into a state of self-contradiction in which we frown on any development projects, yet we long to join the ranks of advanced countries, a dream that requires us to continue economic growth and development.
Would our posterity willingly agree to our giving up an economically affluent and comfortable life in our obsession with the conservation of nature? As there are more of us who prefer the material world of today than the stark poverty that was our lot before the 1960s, wouldn't our posterity feel the same? Of course this does not mean that we shouldn't remember our neglect of the environment when we were single-mindedly trying to grow. Our development must be environment-friendly.
Nevertheless, we should step aside from viewing development and the environment as a dichotomy and judge whether a project has followed all the legal procedures on environmental protection and whether it has met all the requirements of the environmental impact assessment. Through our long history under development dictatorships, our society has grown too lenient of social movements and anti-establishment protests.
It seems that all students write the same answer on essay tests: We should preserve our environment for the benefit of succeeding generations. It also seems that there are many more candidates now than before who make pro-environment campaign promises to lure voters. But all their ideas stem from an excessive zeal to protect the environment untouched, and stem from a polarized view of everything being either all good or all evil.
They claim that protecting the environment is a way to enhance the level of our life. Their logic is that there is no such thing as a "free lunch" and that the price of eating lunch -- that is, of achieving economic development -- is the destruction of the environment. If we believe these environmentalists, we would all have to skip lunch.
As there are two sides to a coin, there is always a problem of choice and the harmony of such choice in any decision to be made. Should we overemphasize the importance of environmental protection, we would have to forgo certain conveniences of economic development.
Therefore, even though our hearts desire for the Dong River and Mount Bukhan to remain the way they are and for a world without factory smoke, our heads should tell us that we are living in a world where we need to solve water control problems and traffic congestion.
The presidential election season is soon approaching. These are the times when people try more than ever to bulldoze ahead with their ideas, relying on the number of their heads and the power of their voices more than anything else. "Environment" and "growth" are not two separate trains running headlong at each other. We must remember that they are companions in our quest for an affluent and comfortable future.
That is why it is important for our society to show the maturity to respect the opinions of experts and to uphold the law and principle. Let us once again demonstrate the social conscience that we surprised the world with during the World Cup.
The writer is the chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
by Park Yong-sung