Ecology and the World-System

By Walter L. Goldfrank; David Goodman et al. | Go to book overview

12
The Emergence of South Korean Environmental Movements: A Response (and Challenge?) to Semiperipheral Industrialization

Su-Hoon Lee & David A. Smith

Dark smoke arising from factories is a symbol of our nation's growth and prosperity. ( President Park Chung Hee 1962)

Pollution is a phenomena that appears when the contradictions of capitalism, with its sole objective of pursuing profits, reach their extreme. ( Korean Pollution Research Center 1982)

A nation-state will quickly lose its legitimacy if citizens can no longer breathe the air or drink the water. ( Kenneth Gould, Allan Schnaiberg, and Adam Weinberg 1996, 17)

In the last three decades South Korea has undergone one of the most rapid industrial transformations in world history. Since the early 1960s the economic growth has been remarkable: overall GDP grew at 8.6 percent between 1960 and 1970, and 9.5 percent over the following decade, while sectoral growth in industry and manufacturing exceeded 15 percent for that entire period (data from World Bank 1982, summarized by Hart-Landsberg 1993). Carter Eckert ( 1992, 289) provides an evocative description of this process as

a tale whose drama is heightened by breathtaking contrasts: a per capita GNP of about US$100 in 1963 versus a figure of nearly US$5,000 as the year 1990 began; a war-ravaged Seoul of gutted buildings, rubble, beggars, and orphans in 1953 versus the proud, bustling city of the 1988 Summer Olympics with its skyscrapers, subways, plush restaurants, boutiques, firstclass hotels, and prosperous middle class; a country abjectly dependent on foreign aid in the 1950s versus a 1980s economic powerhouse. (Quoted by So and Chui 1995, 191)

It is hardly surprising, then, that many Western scholars, particularly those in the United States, describe South Korean development as an "economic miracle" and suggest that the Korean model be adopted by other, less-developed Third World societies (for an influential example, see Balassa and Williamson 1987).

Accepting this premise, scholars and policymakers have honed in on the South Korean case, along with the other so-called East Asian Newly Industrialized

-235-

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