ETD & GEYK (Green Environment Youth Korea) / by Andrew Tran

While we were on tour in Busan, Eryc Taylor sat down with Green Environment Youth Korea GEYK and interviewed the group on the status of climate change in South Korea. Check out our conversation below! 

What is your (GEYK’s) mission?

We want to change our society to be more sustainable. It’s kind of a “textbook mission” - to try and spread environmental knowledge between the people and strengthen alliances within the community.

Mission from website: A climate change organization whose main focus is young people, exploring solutions to climate change issues and making efforts to raise the voice of young people at home and abroad. 

Tell us a little about yourself and why you formed this group.

JiyuYonKim- I am the co-founder of GEYK. I majored in Pre-Law and I am currently working for a company. In 2009, I went to a conference where I met a lot of people fighting for climate change.  

Jiyu - I studied international studies as an undergrad. I took an international security class where I went to a climate change workshop and was inspired. From there, I went to grad school to major in climate change. I currently do environmental studies and I am the VP of GEYK.

SeJin - I like to call ourselves the “GEEKS” of Climate Change because we are so passionate. I originally studying French, but changed my major to climate change because I felt it was my mission to work on it and change the world. I am currently a student and studying environmental studies in university. I also work as a bartender and attend regular conferences about climate change. 

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* Eryc introduced himself and explained the mission of Eryc Taylor Dance (ETD) and ETD Outreach: Using music and dance to bring vulnerable communities together.

Then they asked him why he got into climate change - how did we (ETD) get interested in climate change and dance? And why combine the two? 

Eryc - I grew up in Los Angeles, CA where there was major smog and air pollution. I developed asthma as a young kid and felt the effects of it daily. I have also traveled around the world and have seen the devastating effects of climate change. I want to use my art form as a platform to talk about it all. I want to address different options for our daily routines such as cutting out plastic and trying to be more globally aware. I strive to combine this passion with my dance company to make an even bigger impact. Art is universal and can really make a difference. *

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When did GEYK begin?

We began in 2014 - 5 years ago (but we prepared in Fall of 2013 to gather info and begin the organization). We officially launched on April 5th, the Day of Trees (similar to Earth Day in the US) — it used to be required by law to plant a tree on this day.  This was because a lot of trees and vegetation were destroyed during the Korean War. Therefore, all citizens were required to plant trees. Now, our land is 64% trees.- the 2nd highest in the world. Tree Day is now a celebration!

Why do many Korean people wear masks?

Korea  relies on Coal Power Plants - one of the biggest in the world and is in 7th in the world for emissions. Seoul’s air quality is very bad. It is filled with yellow and micro dust from cars and factories, and also residual dust from China. People tend to wear nice tight masks to help filter the poor air quality (even though it does not do much to help). 

What are some policies aimed to help Climate Change in Korea? 

The government is trying to make policies but it is not having a strong effect. We have policies where people can only drive a certain amount of cars at a time, but no one listens to them. There are also restrictions on filters in factories, but it doesn’t seem like they are being followed either. 

Everything seems to be “voluntary.” For governmental officials these policies are enforced and required, but most people ignore them. 

What have you done at GEYK to help Climate Change? 

Participating in our youth organization, we have worked specifically on policies with the Seoul government in particular about pollution in the air. Ten members of GEYK are working on making a proposal for the government by suggesting they provide energy vouchers for people using electric vehicles. We also had a few members attend a meeting for the Paris Agreement and worked on a few documents.

In addition, we are in the process of publishing a book on recycling. GEYK received funding from a foundation that gave us several thousand Korean Won to write a book about recycling that is specific to Korean culture. We conducted 4-5 months of research, and now we hope the book will educate people on how to recycle well. Most of the stuff goes to the dump, so now, we are telling people how to be smarter with their waste themselves. The book will be released in July/August.

What does it mean to recycle here (in Korea)?

We do not have the same recycle culture as you the US such as can or bottle recycling machines in the supermarket- you can only find those in a few Giant Marts. But people do collect cardboard boxes to recycle for money. 

Every apartment building has recycling units, and it is becoming a daily habit for everyone to separate their garbage. There are also special bins for food waste, and we have companies that will then take those bins and make a giant compost of it. So, people are recycling very well but, the giant companies are not actually doing anything- they are just throwing everything away with the trash. We want to stop this from happening and educate the public about it. 

Do you have renewable energy? Solar Power? Wind Turbines? 

In Korea only about 4% of electricity is coming from renewables. 

In the city, there are not many houses just giant apartment complexes, so there are limited places to install solar panels. But in the countryside, solar panels are built so that people can earn money. People are given supplemental pension plans to help install a solar plant. 

Some headlamps and streetlamps are powered by solar panels, but not many because they don’t get a lot direct sun due to the pollution in Seoul. The government is trying to give incentives to people who want to construct solar panels on their apartments, but the incentive is not big enough to make it worth it. 

We have a few mountain ranges with some wind power plants, but a lot of the turbines are not moving. There is not much wind, so the government is hesitant to add in more because it might not be worth it due to our weather restrictions.

What is the millennial response to Climate Change?

Millennials are not as concerned here. It doesn’t affect their lives. They are not interested in the particulate dust and trying to get rid of air pollution. They notice the weather is getting hotter, so the millenials are aware of it happening, but seem to be more interested in employment and debt. The economic situation is more important-  the environment is not a priority. 

Are you feeling the weather is changing?

We have felt hotter summers and colder winters. We used to have four seasons, but Fall and Spring are gone. The weather changes abruptly. May was very hot, when it was never that hot. We are nervous for July and August. 

We are seeing the weather changes very vividly, and the climate feels more subtropical. A lot more tropical fruits are growing. 

How are the oceans?

Micro plastic is a global problem - the plastics are all over the sea. We used to eat a lot of pollocks but they are dwindling. The temperature increase is killing them off. 

There are some places in the ocean where the trash is just everywhere. We went on a fishing trip and instead of catching squid, we were catching trash! The islanders said there is no law or regulations about their trash, so they are just throwing things everywhere. Now, the fisherman are fishing and will catch trash instead of squid. 

What about plastics? How are Koreans cutting down their waste?

The consumption of plastic in Korea, per capita, is the biggest in the world (plastic bags and to go containers are very much used. There is a big “take-out” culture in Korea, so all of the to go containers just keep piling up. 

Now, some grocery stores are charging a fee per plastic bag that is used at check out.   

What about urban farming?

Vertical Gardens are very popular. Most of the big buildings have gardens on the roof, but mostly for recreational use, not for oxygen. Small farms are gaining popularity. People who have one acre land are now growing their own food. We call them “weekend farms.” 

Are organic foods popular?

Not really, we don’t have it here in Korea. In giant supermarkets they may have small organic sections. “Moms” want to buy organic foods in the grocery stores, but we do not know much about organic farming. 

How do you keep everything so clean here?

There is a very efficient group of people whose job is to keep the subway, roads, and parks clean. Also, throwing trash on the ground is illegal. We say “the Korean way is to keep it with you.” If you have trash you keep it on you until you get home, where you can properly recycle it. 

How do you receive funding for your organization?

There are several environmental groups in Korea that are funded by the government, but the little ones do not get funding and rely on donations from the people. However, people in Korea do not spend money on donating to non-profit organizations. There are not the same kinds of tax incentive. So, there are only 1 or 2 little Youth Environmental organizations, not too many. GEYK gets corporate funding. We are a volunteer organization, so we donate our time every weekend or after work. We all have other full time jobs.

Eryc: Thank you for your time ; it was such an amazing opportunity to be able to speak with your organization while we were on tour here  in Busan, South Korea. Getting a different perspective is also crucial to our understanding on how to make a global impact.

 ETD’s fight for Climate Change continues--stay tunned for more interviews, blogs and follow us online @eryctaylordance. To help join our fight consider supporting our program EARTH to help us match our grant from the Marta Heflin Foundation at ETD.nyc/earth.

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