Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day: Green Korea?

Blog action day is a day when bloggers all around the world write about a certain topic of interest and import to the world... and the blogosphere, I suppose, though the blogosphere is less important that, you know, THE WORLD.

anyway, bloggers this year voted to write about climate change (that's twice in three blog action days.. if not three times) -- but I just wrote about that. My friend Matt thinks this will be the most compelling issue of our generation... and I don't think he's wrong.

Anyway, this being a Korea blog, I took a look around google news and other searches, to find out about Korea's green status. Here are some interesting articles about Korea's green record.

First of all, Korea's a bit of an environmental puzzle: they develop wetlands, but LG Chem also invented one of the best batteries out there, which GM will be using in their electric car development, and which might lead to a Korean mass-produced electric car. Of the world's 20 largest economies, Korea and China used the highest percentage of their economic stimulus investments to support environmental work, and young Koreans overwhelmingly think protecting the environment is very important. These are good signs, duh.

There's the ironic trumpeting of the DMZ as a wildlife preserve, in which the Kimcheerleeders casually gloss over the fact it's undeveloped because it's a minefield... but it's also the one place in the world where you can observe the Three-Legged Asian Bear, and the Three-Legged Wild Deer, in its natural habitat.

But if you're going to read only one of these links, go for:

Asia Chronicle has an awesome article about "Korea's Green Nationalism" which does a great job describing the importance of nationalism in Korea, and how just as (polluting) industrial development was an imperative to repair Korea's damaged national pride after Japanese colonialism, reforestation was equally important to make up for the way the Japanese exploited Korean forests. In fact, Korea's reforestation project has been a remarkable success, increasing Korea's forestry resources by 900% since 1973. And trees grow slow. Arbor Day is a (kind of a) big deal here.

In my own observation, a short trip to Japan showed a much higher visible commitment to environmental protection in buildings and infrastructure: buildings had "energy efficient" stickers and signs on windows, appliances, and all over; almost every road had bike lanes, (whereas in Korea, the bike lane in front of Gyungbok Palace seems to have been taken as a "Buses, Taxis, Scooters and one Frazzled Biker Fearing For His Life Lane"). Bikes in Korea are a toy for kids, not a valid transportation option: hell if you'd find a bike garage like this (any old place in Kyoto) somewhere in Seoul. Maybe the situation's better in other cities, or outside the city, but it's bleak in Smoggy Seoul.

Yay Japan!
So there's a ways to go, both in public policy and conservation efforts, in green technology and infrastructure, and, more than anywhere else, in my opinion, also in the culture of the people on the street. It has to become cool to ride a bike in Korea, but for now, a car is still too much of a status symbol for all those old guys to take the subway (how can I browbeat my subordinates into staying late if I can't point to the parking lot and scream, "I drive a dodge stratus!" at them?) -- bikes have to become cool. The new subway lines in development have to be used. Bike lane laws must be enforced. And, before even starting the "don't litter you disgusting foob" awareness campaign, instilling respect for the streets in your average Korean, rather than just love for Dokdo, public trash receptacles need, need, NEED to return to Korea's public spaces so that people have no excuse for littering.

I lived in Jongno for sixteen months, and every morning at 6:40am when I walked to work, I had to walk by this. Frankly, it just looks like Seoulites don't respect their own city, when you see this: it's just shameful: (final picture in the series: puke warning)


JR said...

It is shameful, but I could have done without that last photo. Oh, the number of times I have almost stepped right in the middle of that.

Pinky said...

yea, the first time i saw it i was like "wtf... what's that?"... then i got a whiff of it and quickly realized!

Erik said...

You indirectly hit on a very good point. In Korea a lot of the environmentalism is directed by the government and the companies rather than by a grassroots effort. Littering is one of the most obvious signs of this. I've taken to picking up garbage I see people drop on the streets and handing it back to them. (I use hand sanitizer, OK.) Usually this gets me called an 18-baby-dog, but oh well.

Brian said...

One thing I like in Korea, and I may have to just write a letter to McDonald's back home about it, is how you separate your trash at fastfood restaurants. Now, I know that in the apartment complexes where I lived people ignored the different bins and just threw stuff wherever, so maybe the same thing happens at McDonald's, but it's a good idea at least. I went to Taco Bell when I was back home, and I felt guilty about throwing away my plastic cup and straw.

The litter is remarkable. I will say, though, that Korea isn't THAT much more dirty than Pittsburgh. And back home people throw their cigarette butts wherever and assume that if they throw something out the window while they're driving it disappears forever.

But on a daily basis I'll be walking behind someone who will just throw a wrapper on the sidewalk. And my neighborhood is pretty ghetto, so walking to and from school each day I pass a ton of those hooker trading cards on the sidewalk. I don't have any problem with legalized prostitution---even though it's illegal in Korea---but dude, there's a school two blocks away, and everyday I pass students of all ages walking by them. Have some respect not only for your neighborhood but for your children.

Chris in South Korea said...

I suspect some businesses have taken to the 'green' way of life for the profit margin. For some companies there's profit in giving out 100 flyers and making 1 sale - unless and until that type of profit margin changes, they've no reason to change their business.

Oh, and I loved the Seoul Design Olympiad - literally *thousands* of logos designed for 'green' living, all on brand new pieces of white cardboard that almost certainly can't / won't be recycled.

Roboseyo said...

But Chris, recycled paper wouldn't have had that crisp "new" feeling that elite, wealthy countries have!

Anonymous said...

Good luck in Korea! Here’s my post for Blog Action Day:

Everyone else go make one too!

Unknown said...


where have you been to in Japan?

here in the Kanto region (Tokyo, Yokohama ...) there aren t many separated bike lanes. The reason is simple: no space. J cities are cramped (more than Korea). lack of space (=no parking lots) also boosts the use of bikes for short distance traveling.

In general though, Japan has a very biker friendly environment. traffic is slow, no reckless driving, people show a lot of respect.

chiam said...

Korea is doing more than you think when it comes to the environment.

Korea has done a really great job making water safe to drink when it comes out of the tap. It's done a good job implementing a waste management system that makes Canada look barbarian. It's also done a good job switching buses to CNG and offering incentives to truck drivers to have various parts of their engine upgraded or switched to LNG, LPG, CNG. Taxis are almost all LPG.

If you think the air in Seoul is bad were not here eight years ago.

The DMZ is an extraordinary wildlife preserve, and mines very rarely go off there because most of the mines are anti-tank mines. Bear, Dear, and birds don't weigh enough. This is why you can defect via the DMZ, fish with grenades in the DMZ, and walk around the DMZ. Fact is, 50 years of no development has allowed nature to run its course.

Japan, yes, is doing a lot more than Korea with regard to the environment. But who aren't they doing better than?

Korea Inc isn't stupid. Car companies and electronics makers are working hard to make their products compliant with the new standards being rolled out in Europe.

Litter is litter. Seoul does a good job paying people to clean it up. There is a joke in London, that you don't use a payphone at night, because the drunks vomit in them. I didn't know that my first night, and found myself standing in a pool of vomit. Did I snap a picture and then claim Londonites were environmentally unfriendly?

Roboseyo said...

"Litter is litter. Seoul does a good job paying people to clean it up. There is a joke in London, that you don't use a payphone at night, because the drunks vomit in them. I didn't know that my first night, and found myself standing in a pool of vomit. Did I snap a picture and then claim Londonites were environmentally unfriendly?"

If I'd been to London and stepped in phone booth vomit, I might well have posted the picture, in order to shame London for not doing anything about the vomit booths. In Paris, I'm sure I'll take some pictures of the dog crap everybody tells me is all over the sidewalk. 'Coz that's how I roll... somehow vomit in public places amuses me... especially when I see pigeons picking at it.

Vomit isn't necessarily environmentally unfriendly, but until an attitude of respect for the city's streets is instilled, the litter (which is another symptom of the same disrespect for public spaces) won't disappear. And while the city is doing a good job converting buses to alternative power, the fact remains that to people -- public opinion, rather than public policy -- cars are still too much a status symbol here for most people to quit wanting one, and driving it to places they'd be better off going on public transit.

anyway, that's what I think.

chiam said...


the fact remains. Where isn't a car a status symbol? I don't know where you are from, but even in Toronto, a city in Canada that boasts the largest mass transit system in Canaday, having a car is still a status symbol. Why you think it's any different in Korea is, quite frankly, beyond me.

chiam said...

I'd also like to point out, that it is exactly because of public opinion about the environment that Korea is taking things like yellow sand, development (SEA instead of Post Environmental Assessment), and air and water pollution seriously. As much as you'd like to think otherwise, Korean citizens are wising up...and the litter you see isn't disrespect as much as it's people who are in a hurry. And if people know that there are people who pick up after them, then why should they care where they put their garbage?

If I am drinking a glass bottle of cider or cola, and I leave it on the street, I know someone who collects them will pick it up and make a bit of money. If everyone knows that there is "someone" who will pick up their trash and make a bit of money, how is that disrespect?

It's only disrespect because you (and I) come from a culture where people do not roam the streets collecting trash to make a living.

The term "rags to riches" came from somewhere. North America used to have "collectors"...which Korea has plenty of.

Puffin Watch said...

I was pretty horrified by the open garbage tossing in Korea. People just throwing their cups or cans on the ground as they walked without a second thought. Never in Canada. Oh how wrong I was. Wow, we've lost a couple generation of "give a hoot don't pollute" "don't be a litter bug" types in Canada. The subways here serve as Toronto's garbage pail. Bus stops, people just throw their tim hortons cup anywhere.