This year, the summer of Seoul began 15 days earlier than usual and its period also got longer than usual. This is the effect of global warming. Water shortages, air pollution and many other environmental problems as well as Global warming emerge around us and even threaten our lives. But it seems like the attention of university students is only paid to their romance, grade, finding a job and beauty routines, etc. If you look around, nature has already disappeared and dense buildings are placed instead. We met Park Byeong Sang, the head manager of the Incheon environment ecology institute, who is trying to revive the green color in the desolate cities. He is an environmentalist who thinks about the environment for the next generation and emphasizes its importance. Let's listen to his environment love story.
1. Although you majored in biology, what is the reason that made you have an interest in the environment and start an environmental movement?
When I studied the biological phenomenon of organisms, I thought it was reasonable that I approach biology scholastically. And then I saw the site. There was an announcement from an ecology society that after they made a winding river straight, the diversity of organisms decreased but that was it. I was furious with their attitude that they were not desperate at all about the danger to the ecosystem. Then, a journal titled "Green Review" changed me. I felt like it hit me when I read it. I was thinking I'm just a scientist proving a theory, but after “Green Review” I started considering people and society and began to search for the root that caused environmental problems. In the early 1990s, I started writing online columns about the environment issues and heard the stories of many people. Since then, lots of environmental organizations have begun to emerge and I began to participate.
2. What is your most valuable experience and impression you have felt as an environmentalist?
Environmentalists don't have many rewarding experiences as we just see ecology itself and ask fundamental questions about ecology. However, I feel good when I have mutual understanding with people talking in the citizen organization of another region. I have taught students for 20 years or so and I always say "See you in the field". It is rare to actually meet them in the field but when I meet even one person, I feel really glad. Also, when I went to an assembly, I saw students who remembered and greeted me stayed until the end without being exhausted; that I feel rewarding.
An impressive case was there not long ago. In Mil Yang, grandmothers in their 80s blocked young policemen and Korea Electric Power staff by being naked to oppose to the construction of a transmission tower. Some people say the old women behaved indecently in that way. But they were desperate and thought that there would be no life without it. We must not forget their efforts to prevent constructing the transmission tower.
3. You have been doing a lot of lectures for students. How do you feel about students’ awareness or attitude towards the environment?
My class is stimulating and provocative. It makes students angry to learn the importance of occasional actions on the street. I have been teaching in universities for over 20 years and I find lectures for engineering majors extremely hard. They tend to listen to my class with the face, "Why should I listen to this class?" Even the environment-related majoring students who entered university with concerns for the environment consider the environment one way to earn money. I saw many of them become tired of studying and transfer to other majors in the middle of their undergraduate or graduate program. When I saw them I felt sorry.
4. It is hard to imagine a developed city with an urban view going back to rural scenery. What efforts do we need to make a city where the urban setting coexists with the ecological environment?
People create eco-friendly spaces such as ecological houses. However our city is already too destroyed to be paired with the word ‘ecology.’ Cities are destroyed by concrete and asphalt, so we can approach ecology rather as communication between people than as ecology in terms of the ecosystem.
Nowadays we live not knowing who our neighbors are. Then how can we connect with those neighbors? In Chuncheon, they made "Issac Currency" based on the currency of rice and use it amongst themselves. That way they get a chance to meet their neighbors naturally. They can know about and help each other, and make a true community. I think we can also build communities in the cities. We can communicate by taking care of vegetable gardens and sharing living rooms together. Those are environmental movements we can do.
5. In your blog, there is a column saying that Song-do Amusement Park became a space for a used car dealership. Would you tell us more about it? I wonder what you consider the desirable development direction for Song-do Amusement Park.
I don't like the word, development. People always say development, but the word ‘development’ hasn’t been circulated that long. Think about a book title, 'Would we be poor without economic development?’ Were we unhappy before development? Did our ancestors live unhappily? The answer is ‘No’. Then let's compare the before and after that Song-do became a used car dealership. It was Song-do Amusement Park before, one of the oldest amusement parks with cultures, history, and memories of Incheon in peoples’ minds. However, the park was reclaimed continuously. Mud flat, sandy beach and water around the park had gradually disappeared. When they removed Song-do Amusement Park, they made a promise that they would make it a more fabulous pleasure dome than before. But they made Inchon’s memorable landmark a used car dealership. It was not possible to convert it to the previous amusement park, but we have to start discussions again. We motivate citizens and encourage participation. I think that Song-do Park should be a space where everyone can rest comfortably on green grass.
6. Korea is well known as producing lots of waste emissions. In terms of waste disposal, what are the most serious problems that we are facing and what is the way that we students can help?
We need to get rid of our own waste. Also, our local waste must be disposed within our area. If I have to get rid of my own waste, I would think about the occurrence of waste and search how to reduce it. Now, Korea is one of the countries that is recycling well. Nevertheless, a lot of waste comes out. In order to reduce the waste, we need to reduce unnecessary consumption. People living in modern days are trying to find their happiness from material things. However, that kind of happiness is a very limited one. If you try to keep on feeling happy with material things, you would become competitive and consume products out of envy and jealousy. In the end, it will disturb your happiness. I hope that university students will consume products with their own ethic of responsibility, not blindly following others.
7. You have travelled abroad a lot. What values should we learn from other countries in terms of environmental protection?
There is no definite answer. However we can always refer to other countries. Germany imprinted shame on their mind after the brutal dictatorship of Hitler and swore they would never repeat this history again. Now, there, when any suggestion comes out, they start discussing its various aspects such as history, culture, gender, and so on. In case of environmental problems, when pros and cons of development conflict tightly, they listen to each other, why they should support or oppose development. And then they find middle ground that each of their opinions reflected properly. Germany held a public hearing 80 times over 2 years with only one issue. If they couldn't find a middle ground from discussions no matter what, they would take the majority’s opinion. On the other hand, Koreans tend to accept the majority vote almost unconditionally. The majority vote makes sense only when there was prior consultation and agreement.
8. The environment is gradually becoming more contaminated, but we don't realize it in our everyday routine. What are the ways that we as university students can do to protect the environment in everyday life and what are the environmental organizations that we can join?
Of course there are the practical ways like saving water, using public transportation, which are really important. But most of all I want you to feel unashamed about yourself. You can reduce unnecessary consumption by spending your time and money for yourself, seeking for your personality instead of following others. And these are also environmental movements.
There are a lot of environmental organizations, and you can join any of them. Find any organization around you, research and join them. And then you can get feelings that you are really participating. Raise a question one by one. I encourage university students to join and experience environmental movements.
9. What is your final goal as an environmentalist?
There have been many social movements such as the pro-democracy movement and independence movement but I hope the environmental movement will prosper. I hope many people participate in citizen movements even if it is not an environmental movement. The late Ham Suk Heon, the Gandhi of Korea, said 'Challenge elders' to young people. This means to communicate with elders. You can understand them when you know what they think and how they solve problems. Today, young people are severed from their elders and thereby it is hard to communicate with them. I hope that young people protect ecology together by communicating and harmonizing with elders.
From the interview, we can learn about simple but big actions that we can practice for environmental protection. It is not that far away. We should remember his word that environmental protection starts from communication and harmony, not from major actions. University students are busy studying and preparing for their careers. However, I hope you realize what the most important thing is. If the environment is destroyed, there is no future and no next generation. It is none other than us who should protect the environment. We should first understand the importance of the environment then try to find out the things we can do for it. Environmental protection that you have always thought as a big thing can be just easy and natural.
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