In her 1984 book, The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman charted how governments have acted against their own best interests from Troy to the Vietnam War. It would be interesting to see her perspective on the Lee Myung Bak administration's massive destruction of what's left of South Korea's natural environment, from rivers to wetlands to the most beautiful coastline on Jeju Island.
S. Korea ranked the second worst nation in environmental degradation in proportion to natural resources, just behind Singapore, in a 2010 study based on seven indicators: natural forest loss, habitat conversion, fisheries and other marine captures, fertilizer use, water pollution, carbon emissions from land use, and species threat. The professor leading the study noted that, “The environmental crises currently gripping the planet are the corollary of excessive human consumption of natural resources. There is considerable and mounting evidence that elevated degradation and loss of habitats and species are compromising ecosystems that sustain the quality of life for billions of people worldwide.”
Lee may be compared to former Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, a former construction company executive remembered for his 1970's-era construction boondoggles. Lee, also a former construction company executive, never met a river or coastline that didn't need to be dredged, demolished and paved over, by means of transfer of public funds into private construction company coffers. His "Four Rivers" project will cost S. Korean citizens nearly $33 billion and will, if completed, destroy what's little left of habitat for critically endangered wildlife dependent on shallow rivers and wetlands. His Jeju Island military base plan would, if completed, destroy a soft coral habitat; the Korean peninsula's only natural dolphin habitat; and an indigenous farming (tangerine groves) village.
To achieve his policies, which are not supported by the majority of citizens who want a clean natural environment and democratic society, Lee has relied upon violent tactics reminiscent of South Korea's military dictatorship era, routinely using state power to violate private property rights, democratic process, and individual freedom of expression.
SoonYawl Park, a research fellow at Seoul National University, provides a recent analysis, "Korea's rivers take brunt of 'shoveling' politics," at Asia Times (originally published at The Asia-Pacific Journal):
The Four Rivers project is far from its original goal of developing the regional economy and the rivers into a nature-friendly zone. Instead, it has produced environmental degradation and cultural and ecological destruction, while channeling super profits to the big construction companies.Security analyst Matt Hoey charts the latest at Jeju Island in this commentary for The Hankyoreh: "Is S.Korean navy finally backed into a corner on the Jeju Base project?"'.