[VIEWPOINT]Pave paradise for a parking lotThis is what happened when I went on a field trip to an ecological conservation zone in southern England. We passed through a wilderness without any trees except for some strange bushes, and reached a wooded forest with green mossy ground. Our guide and ecologist explained with some significance in his smile. “This forest looks ecologically very healthy, but in fact it is destined to disappear before long. As you can see, thick moss covers the ground beneath the trees and blocks tree seeds from budding. So, when the existing trees’ lifespan ends, this place will become like the wilderness over there. We call this forest “ecological desert.”
Whenever I walk on an asphalt road in the city, I recall the words “ecological desert.” This is a barren land where plant seeds cannot take root even if they fall to the ground. This is also a suppressed land where even roadside trees, single green spots in the city, are barely holding up their branches as if they were necks strangled by ties. Wherever I look around, there are no openings where I can find soil. Although people are worried and complaining about the increase in desert areas across the world, we have already been confined to an ecological desert called the city. This desert was created by human beings’ footwear ― the large ones being their cars and the small ones their shoes.
Last week, I had to work in the east coast area, and had to travel in some mountain valleys. People were busy repairing waterways and farm roads in almost every valley and stream in order to heal the scars of Typhoon Lusa, which swept through the region last year leaving devastation in its path. But from the perspective of Mother Nature, the repairs were done in a more disastrous way than the havoc caused by Lusa. All footpaths and farm roads connected to asphalt highways were cemented, and stream banks were fenced like concrete walls. Also, meandering streams underwent so complete a rearrangement that they became straight. How can living things survive in streams where no plants can sprout or in a river where meanders and wetlands have disappeared?
It is a big mistake if we expected that nothing would happen after we suffocated Mother Nature this way. This world moves in so perfect a harmony that when some part goes wrong, other parts certainly go wrong as well. When exhaust gases from cars traveling on the choked asphalt roads form layers in the atmosphere and block the radiant heat, the weather gets hot. When the temperature goes up, more steam evaporates. Then more clouds are formed and it rains more frequently. The raindrops that fall on the asphalt roads cannot penetrate the surface and so they flow along the straight roads and streams to become rapids. The swift rainwater carries every bit of litter and pollutants on the ground down the streams, and then the rivers and the seas become full of waste. Although less water goes into the ground, more water is used. As a result, the ground water levels drop. Sewage from houses and wastewater from factories permeate the underground water, and then the water becomes undrinkable. Eventually, blinded by our “fancy shoes,” we come to face a weird reality in which we suffer from chronic water shortages despite frequent floods, to say nothing of environmental pollution and destruction of the ecological system.
Coming out of a neatly-cemented alley of a village, I said to myself again that I would leave that place as soon as possible. It was at that moment that I saw a finger of grass growing in a crack of the cemented ground. If I had seen the finger of grass in the fields, I would have felt bored by it, but in this cemented desert, I felt like I was seeing an oasis. So I said to the grass, “Hello! What are you doing here all alone?” No answer came, but I felt as if I had heard some voice from beneath the cracks of the cemented ground saying, “I want to breathe!”
* The writer is the president of Ecological Community Movement Center. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hwang Dae-kwon