Waking up to a foggy sky, regularly getting startled by the disaster warning messages from the government, and always grabbing a mask when going out has become a daily routine for Korean people. Even when I am writing this, the N-Seoul Tower is shining in red lights to warn people that the air quality is deleterious and a frowning face emoji is up on my smartphone screen telling me to wear a mask and refrain from any outdoor activities. The biggest question that keeps popping up in Korea is ‘who is to blame for the fine dust?’ China has always been named as the cause for fine dust traveling through the seasonal wind. Locally, some say it is cars, construction sites, and factory facilities. Yes, finding who is to blame is important to decide what sector the policies should target. However, during the process of finding who is to blame, politicians simply focus on maliciously criticizing opposing parties than genuinely trying to find the root cause. Seoul provided free public transport in January when fine dust levels were ‘bad’ just to have the opposing parties erupt in complaint that it is a waste of taxes to allocate money to target local causes when China is the initial cause. With the local elections coming soon, politicians are fervently stating that opposing parties’ fine dust solutions are populism. Just like any other issue in Korean politics, fine dust has turned into another means of politicians trying to bad-mouth rivaling parties to win votes. In these situations, I can’t help but be disillusioned. Even when Korea’s air quality is ranked as the worst amongst OECD nations in 2017, the government has been using fine dust as political material and has only presenting impractical solutions. Disaster warning messages have been telling people to stay at home when majority of the population is obliged to go outside for school or work. The cliché that seems to magically prevent every disaster, ‘wash your hands!’ has somehow become one of the epitome solutions. Although many people are using masks, ones that properly prevent fine dust from entering your respiratory system are not the cheapest. And if you’re someone who works outside or has to frequently talk to customers, masks aren’t even an option. Recently, the government is making new regulations regarding fine dust, but are not that efficient. In March, the Ministry of Education required schools and kindergartens to install air purifiers in the classrooms. However, since filter replacements and regular inspections financially burden individual schools, the air purifiers are not managed properly and are ineffective in air purification. Current school regulations neglect the fact that students are exposed to fine dust during their commute to school and only recommend to refrain from outdoor P.E. activities when fine dust levels are ‘bad.’ The Ministry of Education allows elementary, middle and high school students to miss school on days when fine dust levels are ‘bad’ if they have respiratory diseases, asthma, allergies etc. But, students without diseases – who equally have a chance of being diagnosed in the future – are given no choices but to go to school. Like usual, the government never acknowledges that prevention is better than cure. In such situations, practicality is the answer. Allocate money to provide masks for the poor and subsidize schools, public institutions, and universities to properly manage air purifiers. Rather than creating vague regulations, set a specific baseline of when the students can miss school when their health is threatened by fine dust. Fund ecofriendly energy research and fine dust analysis for long-term effects. Many of these cost huge coins, but if politicians don’t waste money and time by idling away, bashing and disrupting other fine dust policies, it might not be a huge problem.
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