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Local environmental group challenges claims of a 'green' JejuThe Jeju Solidarity for Participatory Self-government & Environmental Preservation holds weekend walking trek, April 25
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승인 2011.04.25  10:53:27
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▲ JSPEP members trek through the wind farm of the Susan-ri "Eco Village." Several windfarms are scattered all across Jeju, resulting in a large network of transmission towers that mar the landscape. Photo by Tommy Tran

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, a member of the Global Geopark Network, and a contender in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign, there seems to be no end to the titles and promotions that the Jeju government pursues for its little paradise.

Initially advertised as a prime tourist spot, the trend in recent decades has been to emphasize Jeju Island’s natural wonders as well as its participation in the global drive to seek green solutions. At the same time, there has been a major push for development at a large scale; everywhere in Jeju there is something being constructed.

Considering these things, one may wonder – how “green” is Jeju? The Jeju Solidarity for Participatory Self-government & Environmental Preservation (참여환경연대 or JSPEP), a local grassroots organization, questions the current government’s sincerity in protecting the environment.

I received an invitation from Kim Ahyeon, the policy director of the JSPEP, to join her organization on April 25 for a long walking trek from the area of Sonji and Geomi Oreums to the base of Yongnuni Oreum, deep in the highly rural areas of the Susan-ri “Eco Village.”

It was a clear and beautiful Saturday morning, a perfect day for a hike. This was no simple leisure hike, however, as this trek marked the beginning of this year’s round of monitoring activities for the JSPEP.

▲ A JSPEP member gazes at the electrical transmission tower network from the top of Geomi Oreum. Photo by Tommy Tran
▲ A transmission tower near Sonji Oreum. Photo by Tommy Tran

The focus of this particular event was to observe the environmental impact of the wind farms of the Susan-ri area in the eastern part of Jeju Island and the extensive networks of transmission towers that run through the island. As one of the so-called “Three Abundances” of Jeju Island, wind seemed to be a logical source of renewable energy.

According to JSPEP, wind contributes at least 10 percent to Jeju’s energy needs. Though a green alternative, the JSPEP argues, however, that the manner in which they are set up can also be negative. The effects of the transmission tower network became more apparent up close – aside from the clearing of land, electromagnetic waves also appear to have stunted vegetation growth in the immediate area.

As wind farms were built in clusters all across the island with little thoughtful planning, the staggered arrangement resulted in an elaborate power grid network that mars the landscape of the central highlands of the island.

Aside from what the JSPEP perceives as a half-hearted commitment to pursuing green growth in Jeju, they are also critical of the current development plans. Two of the most pressing matters for the organization at this time are the naval base project at Gangjeong and the major golf resort projects.

“If we look at the promotion of Jeju’s natural beauty in the New Seven Wonders campaign and the over-development and massive destruction of the gotjawal forests,” Kim said, “then there clearly is a mismatch.”

While Jeju no doubt features splendid scenery and many natural wonders, the JSPEP urges islanders and foreigners alike to consider deeply the situation of the island’s ecosystem as the New7Wonders campaign intensifies.

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