[Outlook]The true colors of green

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[Outlook]The true colors of green

It’s tough being a layman, with so many self-proclaimed experts out there running around trying to look like they know what they’re talking about. For a while, if you weren’t studying stem cells it was hard to carry on a conversation. At other times, even people who weren’t interested in golf came off like fanatics of the sport. Later on, terms such as prions, vCJD, melamine and subprime mortgage were going around, causing many a headache.

These days it’s environmental issues that have me reaching for aspirin. I am well aware, as are most people nowadays, that the Earth is warming and that the damage to the ecosystem is getting worse.

When the book “The Skeptical Environmentalist” was published years ago, it seemed like the earth was still doing all right. The author, Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish statistician, asserted through collected data that the argument that the environment was in crisis was exaggerated. However, looking at how things stand now, it seems the Earth is actually in danger.

Before we judge what’s right and what’s wrong, our country will inevitably have to admit that the environment is in peril because of international pressure from, among others, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. In a timely move, the government has pledged to pursue green growth.

The book “Sick Planet” scorns the green growth that Korea, the United States, Europe and Japan have begun to pursue, saying it is impossible to achieve. The author, Stan Cox, employs the Jevons Paradox, which claims that as the efficiency of an energy resource increases, consumption of that resource also goes up, damaging the ecosystem even further. As a result, we should give up growth altogether, according to the author. In a foreword to Korean readers, Cox noted that Korean President Lee Myung-bak has also jumped on the green bandwagon and released a series of plans to achieve green growth.

“That will be another case that proves the Jevons Paradox is right,” he concluded.

On the other hand, the book “Something New Under the Sun” by John Robert McNeil made some pleasant comments about Korea. The writer first laments the environmental catastrophes of the 20th century. He said that in the course of its economic growth, Korea paid a huge price in the form of air and water pollution. But as it has become prosperous, Korea now has advantages in overcoming the chaos in its ecosystem.

Listening to the contradictory arguments from experts outside our country can be confusing. So what do Korean experts have to say about this?

Of course, the administration’s forecasts make everything look rosy. Government bodies put the word “green” before most of their policies. The word is all over the Korea Forest Service’s Web site - green policies, green knowledge, green information and green news. Companies are at the ready to jump on the trend, sensing potential profit. But regretfully, experts in the environmental field are keeping a low profile.

There must be a reason for this. The Korean Federation for Environmental Movement is the country’s biggest environmental organization with 80,000 members, and it’s now trying hard to restore its image. It created a committee for a new environmental movement and is carrying out internal reforms. It has declared that it would not receive subsidies or support from the government or businesses. Its employees’ monthly wages used to average a mere 1.3 million won ($930); that figure has now been halved. This all happened in the aftermath of the scandal in which Choi Yul, the former president of the organization, was indicted for corruption.

But something is more fundamentally wrong with the association than its lax management or the suspicions of corruption. It was confused between environmental issues and anti-American sentiment in the issue of the Saemangeum Seawall in Maehyang-ri and Daechu-ri. It staged campaigns against certain candidates in elections and against an impeachment attempt, revealing its political intentions. That was the main reason for the crisis.

But we can’t only listen to experts from one side. Some greenbelt designations have been removed. Development in national parks is to be allowed and the right to issue permission for such projects is said to be going to local governments. People are predicting that big mountains will be covered with cable cars.

With so much speculation out there, there are inevitably going to be different opinions. Then laymen can see whether the government is pursuing green growth in the truest sense, or if it’s only the package that’s green.

The crisis in the environmental movement should not lead to a crisis in the environment.

*The writer is an editorial writer and a cultural news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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