Environmentalism in Korea

Environmentalism in Korea barely exists.  At best it’s encompassed by the idea of ‘well being’, which is to say clean air, organic food and ginseng.  There’s little understanding or appreciation of subjects such as climate change, habitat restoration,  greenhouse gas emissions.  Indeed, the current green policy is one of canalizing major rivers in Korea; adding dams, wiers, concrete banks and the like.

In most ways it’s bad, but at least it means that while I am trying to get my project off the ground, most people will neither understand nor appreciate what I am doing. This means my ideas are less likely to get stolen I guess.



  1. June 30, 2011 at 7:16 am

    hi rooftopecology,
    we have a research about IMO,may we ask you some question regarding about IMO.
    1. there’s big possibility if we use IMO as a decomposer of vegetable residues?
    2. what are the characteristics of IMO?


    • July 9, 2011 at 6:54 am

      Hi Shiela

      The characteristics of IMO indigenous micro organisms depends on the locality, since they are by definition indigenous. Only about 5% of bacteria and fungi have been identified. However such microorganisms have adapted to the local environment and thus tend to be hardier than lab produced micro organisms.



  2. wbyun said,

    October 20, 2011 at 2:32 am

    I came across this on twitter today: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2011/10/117_96973.html
    I frowned because I knew environmentalism wasnt really on people’s mind in Korea. I honestly dont know much about environmentalism in Korea but perhaps the government is still doing a decent job without the awareness of the population? Im a bit skeptical. Whats your take on this?

    • October 20, 2011 at 2:44 am

      Korea reforested after the Korean war because in areas where deforestation took place they suffered from devastating flash floods. In this they were basically doing the same thing the Japanese did and for the same reasons. Only last monsoon a hundred tons of mud and wood came down into an apartment complex five minutes from where I live, and that’s from a steep forested hillside, not one devoid of trees. So I don’t think the Koreans should be set apart for particular praise in this regard,

      Korea’s green growth policy is I believe the correct way forward, but many environmentalists will say that the two concepts are irreconcilable. Additionally, the idea of green growth is hard to reconcile with the 4 rivers project, which is a bonanza for concrete manufacturers and construction companies, but which has threatened or destroyed areas of precious biodiversity and in many cases lowered water quality. Environmentalists in Korea are up in arms over this, so again, I am not sure it fits with the congratulatory tone of the newspaper report.

      Korea is home to some creative green genius, but its things like Dr. Han Kyu Cho’s Korean Natural Farming Organization, which has its own ingenious methodology. But compare Seoul to Tokyo and you’ll notice that a Tokyo street has a plant in every available corner and alcove. A Seoul street is concrete and essentially devoid of vegetation.

      I’d take anything the Korea Herald or the Korea Times writes with a large grain of salt. Journalistic integrity and quality in Korea is suspect.

      • wbyun said,

        October 20, 2011 at 4:50 am

        thank you for the response. yes korean journalism is disgusting because everyones been brainwashed by the nationalistic pride. every opportunity people get, whether on tv or in writing, they bullshit about how great the country is. tis sad. now you’re the activist here. and public relations is very important and how news outlets cover issues of environmentalism could affect how the general people behave in regards to the issue. So on one hand there are the researchers working on the software. how should one (or a group of people) go about trying to change the hardware?- the news coverage and people’s attitudes toward the issues. grass-root movement won’t work if the newspapers dont let the underground efforts see the light of day… gah. the problems of newly democratized countries…

  3. seohyun park said,

    July 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    I think your argument is too much over-generalized about Korean environmentalism with some examples of environmental policies in the current Korean government. As far as I know over 90% people in South Korea are opposed to the 4 rivers project. It is very sad the current Lee government in many ways have been wrong-doing against the democracy in the country. However it is ver difficult to achieve both environmental conservation and economic justice in many countries. After the Korean war, Korea was the poorest country in the world, while Japan made a lot of money from the war. Korean people at that time needed to eat something even the skins of trees in order to get rid of their hugerness. After their economic development to some level they can restore their forestry finally. You need to think many factors when evaluating environmentalism in one country in terms of economic status, developmental stage, worldview, and religious tradition. However if your article is opposed to the current govenment’s green growth policy not the Korean environmentalism in history I agree with that.

    • August 17, 2012 at 8:33 am

      My experience of Korean environmentalism is that Korean society is in the materialistic nouveau riche phase. Even my own wife, who is crazily smart and Korean, rolls her eyes when I talk about this stuff. To my mind a lot of Koreans believe they have to choose between the Hyundae Sonata sedan and doing what it right for the planet and future generations. It is I believe rather much to expect of a society that just got rich not to spend money on a materialistic blowout, so while I do not like it – I do understand it. Not wishing to make the choice between sedan and rooftop garden results in a phenomenon I would describe as willful blindness. People just refuse to see what is right in front of them. Things are different when it comes to eating better since everyone in Korea knows that the big killer here is stomach and bowel cancer. This is the well being phenomenon and I sorely wish the degree of effort going into that (which is basically materialistic as well) were going into environmentalism.

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