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Students lead lessons for planet’s future

Daejayon fosters environmental leaders to fight against climate change


Student Jung Su-jin hopes to be an English translator when she graduates, but on top of her studies, the 23-year-old spends up to 30 hours a week working to safeguard the planet’s future.

She is one of more than 2,100 Daejayon members devoted to protecting the planet through the Korea-based environmental NGO.

With groups all over the country, and now across the globe, Daejayon students are talking to everyone from environment ministers to elementary school kids to spread their green message.

“As I have been working with the environment for four years the most fearful thing for me is people’s indifference. But it can be really touching when these indifferent people can change into the guardians of the environment through the Daejayon meetings,” said Jung, who is currently attending Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

“They come into our forums without smiling faces but when going out they are talking a lot, they are surprised and have a smile on their face. We are touching people’s hearts.”

Daejayon, which means “great nature” in Korean, runs extensive Green Campus, Green School and Green World projects to alert people to the reality of climate change and urge them to take action.

First started by university students to carry out cleanup projects ahead of the 2002 World Cup, the organization re-launched on a grander scale in 2008 as the Lee Myung-bak government focused in on green growth and sustainable development.

Members then visited cities around the world to research and discuss environmental issues ahead of Seoul’s 2009 hosting of the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit.
Daejayon members take part in a Green World project in Indonesia last year. (Daejayon)
Daejayon members take part in a Green World project in Indonesia last year. (Daejayon)

Daejayon is now a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and will host campus conservation seminars at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, to be held with organizations from 150 countries on Jeju this Sept. 6-15.

“Many Korean agencies were surprised that we became members of the IUCN because they thought that we were just kid students,” Jung said. “Our important goal is fostering the environmental leaders. At first we were students but we knocked on the doors of many professors and academics and even though we are not experts now we are giving seminars ourselves.”

And Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of IUCN said: “Climate change is already damaging many areas of our lives. There are however much bigger impacts from global warming to come which will affect future generations even more than today.

“For these reasons it is vital for young people to take on the issue of climate change helping to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions today if we want a better world for tomorrow.”

Daejayon members are leading the way, making a film similar to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” and narrating it in Korean and English during screenings for 100s of people around the world.

On Korea’s own environmental record, Jung said: “They are doing so many good things, but Seoul City had the honor of being the second most C02 emitting city in 2011, so actually policy is going in different ways. We still think that they are doing their best and taking active steps in the environmental field.”

Recycling, reducing, reusing household goods, using public transport and controlling their own consumption are all ways that individuals can do their bit for the planet, she added.

And Daejayon members are all motivated in different ways.

Hanyang University student Kim Geun-woo said that reading about climate refugees in places including Tuvalu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands first sparked his interest in green activism.

“These countries are sinking and many people are dying because of floods. When I saw that I was really surprised and in fact shocked. I wanted to do something for our green earth, for nature and against climate change. That is why I became a member of Daejayon,” he said.

The 20-year-old English education major is already leading environmental projects for elementary and middle school kids, with a recent energy-saving campaign helping one Seoul school cut its energy consumption by 14 percent in just one year.

“At first, the school students knew almost nothing about the environment but after they see the Daejayon reports and after our class they really feel moved and their heart changes. After they know their actions really change I think there are so many possibilities,” Kim added.

Ahn Hyo-min, an airline services major at Jaeneung College, works as a Daejayon international reporter spending about two hours each day monitoring environmental news and writing articles to warn people about climate change.

“When I realized how serious environmental problems were I wanted to join to help stop these problems,” the 21-year-old said. “If a frog falls into hot water, it notices right away. But when the frog is in the water and the water is heating slowly the frog doesn’t recognize the temperature and dies.

“Just like this situation, all human beings are getting accustomed to these environmental disasters and are not aware of the seriousness of environmental problems. People are dying now because of the climate change but until now people want better cars, better cellphones and better life they are not thinking about the environment at all. I want to say this is the world’s biggest and most serious problem.”

And Jung said that Daejayon members came from all different academic fields were motivated to teach others, especially school students, about threats facing the world.

“We are educating them because they are the future university students and future leaders. They are going to face the headwind of climate change,” she said.

For more information on Daejayon go to www.greatnature.org.

By Kirsty Taylor (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)
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