[VIEWPOINT]Why trees are still important

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[VIEWPOINT]Why trees are still important

Historically, wood has been a useful resource in a variety of ways. It was not only a necessary raw material in everyday life, but an important strategic resource, militarily and economically. This is because all activities involving other countries, such as trade, war, exploration and colonization, were made possible by ships. The ability to construct vessels large and strong enough to sail the wide seas decided the power of a country.
In other words countries that had trees large enough to use for shipbuilding were able to develop powerful militaries and economies. This is why many European countries in particular protected and managed their forests. When they ran out of domestic timber, they colonized other countries that had it. Forests were a symbol of national competitiveness.
However, we cannot deny that the world of today is much less dependent upon wood. It is no longer used to make vessels or warships, so its strategic importance has almost vanished. Materials such as cement, steel, glass, aluminum and plastic are used more in construction, and electricity and fossil fuels are used more than wood for heating and for cooking. As a result, wood’s economic value has faded a great deal.
Despite this, forests still remain a symbol of national competitiveness in many countries of the world. This is due to the fact that, although wood is no longer valued so much as a resource, the forest now has a more expanded role in enhancing the quality of life.
The value of forests has become more important in densely populated city areas with concentrated manufacturing and consumption. Forests are becoming a standard for measuring the quality of life in the cities of the world.
In today’s fast-moving industrial economic structure, labor is another resource that cannot be overlooked in determining the competitiveness of a country. But one characteristic of high-quality manpower is that it is mobile. People easily change jobs or move, domestically and internationally, according to their personal preference or working conditions. Simply increasing wages or using other material enticements is not enough to lure these highly mobile workers and put them to use enhancing a country’s competitiveness.
Highly sought-after manpower tends not to stay at one job for too long, unless the conditions include the support of an environment that will allow outdoor activities or cultural experiences to enhance their quality of life. Therefore, a city needs green space to attract talented people from both home and abroad.
The same goes for foreign investors trying to establish a factory or company overseas. Even if the industrial facilities are intact and a great deal of tax benefits are provided, it is hard to attract skilled manpower if the air and water of the city to be invested in are polluted, or if there is a shortage of areas for outdoor activity or rest. Companies that fail to attract skilled workers can only fall behind in competition.
The competitive power of a company does not come just from the company itself anymore. Competitiveness largely depends on the natural environment and cultural activity of the city in which a company is situated. If a company wants to increase its competitive power ― and, furthermore, if a nation wants to increase its competitive power overall ―investments need to be made, not just in tax incentives or industrial infrastructure, but in parks and green space in a city. This is because parks and green space are not only needed to provide places of rest, and to beautify the city, but are also becoming necessary factors in enhancing the competitive power of companies, and of countries.

* The writer is a Korean-Canadian ecologist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Tak Kwang-il
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