Any day in Seoul when you can look up into the sky and see a color that might be called blue, it is a clear day, and a great one to go outside. The fact of the matter is there are not many days where you can see a clear blue sky, and even more that you can taste the grime that is clinging to the particles of air floating around. And in the four years that I lived in Seoul, it got worse to the point during my last school year there, we had to call a high pollution day because it was not safe for students to come to school. It makes living in Seoul hard, and it is the most difficult problem that South Koreans face to this day.
Even though this problem does exist in a nation that comes up with new technological advances, they look at this problem as not being of their design. On the other hand, it is trendy to blame somebody else. Many Koreans look to their neighbors to the west as the cause of all of their problems, China. The claim goes that the wind currents take the fine dust and the pollution from the country over the Yellow Sea and dump it strategically on the nation’s capital. Even though there is some truth to this, it is not the major cause for the pollution of Seoul. It is just a way for the citizens to find a scapegoat, so they do not need to do anything to solve the problem, and if they want to have clear skies that highlight the jewel of their nation, they need to quit making this claim, and start doing something themselves to create cleaner air.
The first thing that the nation could do is to make a bigger effort to push for renewable energy. This nation consumes a lot of energy, and according to Reuter’s 70 percent of it comes from coal and nuclear power plants. President Moon at least recognized this part of the problem during the last couple of springs, and when pollution was at its worst, he shut down some of the coal producing plants, and it was amazing to see how the air quality improved overnight. But it can’t be all about the shutting down of power plants if they want to keep up with the energy output that they have become accustomed to, and there is no way they will be able to do that during the bitter cold winter months as people try to warm their homes. The move towards renewable energy needs to happen if this country wishes to be competitive in the future.
There are other things that they can do as well. When I first moved to the country, I was amazed by the amount of recycling that went on because the amount of land in this small, overcrowded country cannot be used to store trash. But as I found out later a lot of the plastic was shipped to China for recycling. When China decided to no longer take this waste, South Korea, the world’s highest per capita consumption rate, needed to think of a way to get rid of this waste. Since its biggest landfill was 80 times over its capacity, they decided to burn the plastic, sending more toxins into the already polluted air. Instead of being a solution to the problem, it just made the problem worse. They need to think of ways of consuming less and recycling their own waste instead of relying on other countries to do so.
The city planning of Seoul has a lot to contribute to this problem as well. Granted, the public transportation system in this country is amazing, and if people would utilize more often, it would cut down on the pollution quite a bit, but like America, Korea has a love fascination with their cars. It has created a big traffic problem in the country’s capital that is part of the big debate going on with the current mayoral race. Part of the reason for this traffic is that traffic lights only let one way through at a time while three other directions sit there idling. They have also created road systems that force people to drive long distances to find a way from one road to another when they could get there in less than a kilometer if they took a more direct route. This would be a bigger problem to solve if they wanted to tackle it, and they would have to focus on one area at a time, but eventually they would find that if they started making these construction choices, the problems of traffic would eventually relieve itself.
Even though it sounds like I am criticizing Korea for this problem, and stating that they are the only one that has it, that is not the intent of this post. I do believe that the ingenuity and determination of these people will allow them to overcome this problem just as long as they first admit that they have a problem. I want to point out this problem to other places in the world, specifically the United States who is also burrowing their heads in the sand thinking that this problem does not apply to them. Granted, the United States has a lot more land, and there was not the pollution in the air during my visit to Colorado that I had become accustomed to in Korea, but the potential for it getting that way is becoming bigger each year. The United States needs to admit that they have a problem as well and take steps to solve it. You want clean air. It makes your standard of living that much better. You do not want to be stuck inside looking out the window hoping the pollution clears so you can see across the street. You want to be the shining example instead of the exception. So please look to the problems of Seoul as your own problem and start to do something to insure the beauty and majesty of this country so it does not look like a dirty ashtray that will become a bigger problem to clean up later.