Virtue and vice in environmentalism

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Virtue and vice in environmentalism

At the end of the 20th century, criticism of the environmental movement started to spread in the West. The criticism was sparked by books such as Ronald Bailey’s “Ecoscam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse,” published in 1993. Bailey’s point was that many of the crises forecasted by environmental activists did not take place, or had no scientific basis.

The environmental movement in Korea, which was born in the 1980s, contributed to informing people of the importance of protecting the land. But the movement has also been shunned by the public because of its engagement in political activities, including its opposition to the impeachment of the president and its involvement in excessive legal battles.

Environmentalists mounted strong opposition to Incheon International Airport, claiming that the site was vulnerable to tsunamis and typhoons and that it was along the route followed by migratory birds. Since the airport opened in 2001, however, these catastrophes have failed to materialize. To the contrary, the airport has won the top service award by Airports Council International for six consecutive years. The construction of the KTX between Seoul and Busan was also stopped many times, and four environmental impact assessments were done. Although the assessments concluded that the construction of the high-speed railroad would not affect the wetlands on Mount Cheonseong, through which the train runs and which are a natural habitat for salamanders. But environmentalists refused to accept the results. The KTX tunnel began operating in November, but according to press reports, there are plenty of salamander eggs in the wetlands.

In 1999, the construction of the Saemangeum Seawall was 60 percent completed but was stopped because environmentalists raised strong objections to the project. The legal battle, which lasted four years and seven months, only resulted in a waste of funds and a split in public opinion. These days, the four-rivers restoration project is the target of environmentalists’ ire. Although the government has won several court cases related to the project, environmentalists are still unwilling to accept the results.

Environmental campaigns are necessary to help our society become healthy. But we should pursue a new direction. We should free ourselves from the old ideology of “development is vice and environmental protection is virtue” and live up to the demands of the times.

*The writer is a professor of environmental science at Ewha Womans University.

By Park Seok-soon

환경운동, ‘개발은 악’이란 낡은 이념 벗어야

20세기 말 서구에서 환경운동 비판론이 일어난다. 1993년 출간된 ‘환경사기꾼(Eco-Scam)’이 대표적이다. 핵심은 수많은 환경위기론이 실제 일어나지 않았거나 과학적 근거가 없더라는 것이다. 그 여파로 서구의 환경운동은 활력이 크게 줄었다.

1980년대 태동한 우리의 환경운동은 국민들에게 환경의 소중함을 알리고 국토를 오염과 파괴로부터 지켜내는데 크게 기여했다. 하지만 낙선운동·탄핵반대 같은 정치활동이나 환경근본주의적 주장과 무리한 법정투쟁으로 외면당하고 있는 것도 현실이다. 인천공항·경부고속철도·새만금과 같은 국책사업을 표류시켜 결과적으로 적지 않은 사회경제적 손실을 초래한 것이다.

인천공항은 지반침하 가능성과 해일·태풍 무방비, 철새의 이동경로임을 내세워 환경단체와 학자들이 극력 반대했다. 하지만 2001년 개항 이후 이들이 제기한 문제점은 발생하지 않았다. 오히려 최근 6년간 ‘공항분야 노벨상’이라는 세계 공항서비스 평가 1위를 차지했다. 경부고속철도 역시 번번이 공사가 중단된 가운데 환경영향조사가 네 차례나 실시됐다. 도롱뇽 서식처인 습지에 영향이 없다는 결론이 나왔지만 반대론자들은 승복하지 않았다. 지난해 11월 KTX가 개통됐지만, 올 봄 천성산에는 도롱뇽 알 천지였다고 한다.

새만금 방조제는 공사가 60% 완공된 상태에서 환경단체들의 반대로 1999년 공사가 중단됐다. 법정공방이 4년7개월을 끌면서 국고낭비와 국론분열을 초래했다. 이를 국민적 합의를 위한 ‘사회비용’으로 치부하기엔 손실이 너무 크다. 지금은 공사가 잘 마무리돼 미래의 꿈에 부풀어 있다. 최근에는 4대강 사업 반대다. 법정투쟁에서 모두 정부가 승소했지만, 시민환경단체들은 쉽게 승복할 태세가 아니다.

환경운동은 시민참여를 통한 건강한 사회를 이룩하기 위해서도 필요하다. 하지만 이제 새로운 방향을 모색해야 한다. ‘개발은 악(惡), 환경은 선(善)’이라는 구시대적 환경이념에서 벗어나 시대적 요구에 부응해야 한다.

박석순 이화여대 환경공학과 교수·한국환경교육학회 회장

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