The Environmentalist Who Fell in Love with the DMZ

November 4th, 2008 - by admin

The Chosun Ilbo – 2008-11-04 19:28:16

SOUTH KOREA (October 24, 2008) — “When human beings disappear from the Earth one day, how long would it take for nature to be restored to its original state? The answer likes in the Demilitarized Zone in Korea,” says Alan Weisman, a professor emeritus of the University of Arizona and prominent environmentalist.

Weisman (61) was speaking at an international conference on DMZ conservation at KINTEX in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province on Thursday. He is mainly in Korea to attend the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands on Saturday.

Weisman is a frequent contributing writer to influential publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine and Discover Magazine. His book, “The World Without Us” was named as the no. 1 non-fiction book of 2007 by Time Magazine and became a worldwide bestseller. In the book, he devotes a chapter to the lessons from the DMZ in Korea, where nature perfectly recovered itself from the ruins of war in just 50 years.

Weisman first visited the DMZ in Nov. 2003 and it was there that he saw his first crane, now an endangered species, despite having worked as an environmental journalist for decades. “Something white and big passed, so I looked at the sky, thinking it must be an airplane. But it was a scarily huge and beautiful crane,” said Weisman. The image he saw that day — a white crane peacefully landing in the DMZ while propaganda programs from the two Koreas echoed from the tannoy — left a lasting impression.

Weisman calls the DMZ a modern version of Noah’s Ark. “When humans give nature a chance, nature will recover at a remarkable speed, and the DMZ is the very evidence that supports this,” he says.

Weisman supports the Korean government’s plan to make the DMZ an ecological park. The government is trying to get the DMZ designated as a world natural heritage site by UNESCO. By turning it into a world-class tourist attraction, Korea can expect to generate profits as well. The Environment Ministry has started field investigation of the area’s ecosystem. Weisman called for a minimum of rambler paths and observation decks to be built to protect the area.

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