[EDITORIALS]Wear your woolies

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[EDITORIALS]Wear your woolies

We are concerned about the recent hike in international oil prices at a time when the global economy is already weak. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, the benchmark Brent crude futures recently hit $31.75, a two-year high.

The surge affects consumer prices in Korea and also hurts our current account balance. The strong won, fortunately, is a cushion, but we must prepare for even more price increases as the market nervously looks at the possibility of a war in Iraq.

We need to increase our oil reserves. Korea now has a 104-day supply of crude oil, which is less than the average of 114 days of reserves held by members of the International Energy Agency.

We are also concerned about the disappearance here of an energy conservation ethic. Korea ranked fourth among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations in oil consumption last year. That is too much considering the relative size of the Korean economy.

According to the research by Energy Network, an energy conservation lobby, 70 percent of public buildings in Korea are overheated. Some fast-food outlets set their thermostats so their employees can work in short sleeves. Those are unacceptable practices for a country that imports $18 billion worth of crude oil and 97 percent of its total energy consumption.

The campaigns by civic groups to get Koreans to wear winter underwear again have been greeted with yawns. People are willing to contribute to a campaign to send warm underwear to the North Korean people, but South Koreans shun it, saying the garments are too bulky or too unfashionable. One study said that if all South Koreans would wear their long johns and set their thermostats 2 degrees centigrade lower, we could save 450 billion won ($374 million) worth of energy per year.

Although it is important to make plans for a possible oil price hike, we ask the South Korean people to join in the campaign to wear long underwear. That would be a small but very meaningful step.
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