August 8, 2017
Korean newspapers were filled with reports of the unprecedented drought that did such damage to local agriculture over the last month leaving reservoirs bone dry. The Korea Meteorological Administration noted in May that total precipitation was just 161.1mm, the second-lowest since statistics started being kept in 1973.
But the Korean media has hardly a word to say about the relationship of this drought to climate change, nor the ties between what is happening here and the spreading deserts in Northeast Asia. The region faces desertification, and the prospects for the future are not good.
And then, last week, the newspapers were plastered with dramatic reports about the torrents of water thatflowed through Korean towns washing away houses and automobiles. Again, you had to look very hard for any indication that these floods were related to climate change. No one bothered to mention what all scientists agree on: the situation will get much worse.
And there was a painful silence about the long-term implications for Korean agriculture over the loss of precious topsoil. The heavy rains swept into the ocean rich topsoil that takes hundreds of years to form. As David Montgomery notes in his book “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization,” the loss of 1 percent of the topsoil a year is enough to bring the most powerful empires to their knees.
And now there are reports about the drought that has devastated North Korea, followed by terrible floods. Some are suggesting this humanitarian crisis might serve as an opportunity for Seoul to offer aid to NorthKorea and start exchanges again.
But it seems as if the drought in the North was mysteriously separated from South Korea by the DMZ. It is one and the same drought, and linked to the spreading deserts in China.
The government has not even started to formulate a comprehensive response.
Most likely we will see some taxpayer money going to relieve some of those who suffered from the droughtand the floods.
But it is complete denial when it comes to the long-term threat to Korea posed by desertification and the intensification of flash floods.
We will need many billions of dollars for the research and development of systems that will allow us to capture the torrential rains, store that water and redistribute it for use in agriculture through integrated irrigation systems over the long droughts that will impact Korea in the years to come.
We need enormous investments in education about climate change, in introducing new approaches to organic farming and in efforts to develop vertical farming and other innovative approaches to assure agricultural production in an increasingly hostile environment.
Moreover, Korea must develop a new generation of vertical farming facilities and other technologies to assure crops are grown with maximum efficiency.
We must recognize agriculture as the field in which South Korea will face the greatest security threat over the next 20 years.
Sorry to disappoint all of you who thought free trade agreements might help. Desertification is sweeping through Australia, the United States, Chile, China and other countries. The cost of food globally will increase dramatically in the years to come and many exporters of agricultural products may not be able to continue to do so in the future.
Yet President Moon avoids using the words “climate change” in his speeches and although he expresses concern for those who suffer the consequences of droughts and floods, he has not presented a long-term plan.
The greatest security threats faced by Korea today, the increases in droughts and the torrential rains and the rise of sea level, have been swept under the rug. If anything, the push for FTA agreements threatens to further increase Korea’s shocking dependency on imported food. The building of apartments and malls continues without the slightest concern for the long-term implications of the loss of farm land ― or the damage to precious topsoil.
The time has come for Korea to stop ignoring the signs of impending doom and make the major investments in infrastructure that are required. Creating irrigation systems to capture water from flash floods will be farmore critical to our future than the next generation of smartphones.