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No oil, no coal? No problem

How a lack of natural resources might be Korea’s biggest blessing
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

After watching the way legislation crawls through the legislative bodies of the United States, a large nation with an abundance of natural resources, I think Korea, a small country with relatively few natural resources, has got it made.

As a young democracy, still emerging from dictatorial and autocratic rule, Korea has a system of government that addresses problems with a "Korea First" approach. In the United States, on the other hand, a vast nation with more lawyers than cows, members of the legislative bodies address problems with a "Me and My Constituents First" approach.

The U.S. approach leads to gridlock. The Korean approach leads to innovation and an economy that has matured faster in the last 40 years than almost any other in modern history.

A simple explanation for this is a lack of resources. It's sad, but true. Without coal, oil, natural gas, gold, silver, copper, uranium and the many other tangible assets that can be dug from the ground, Korea has few of the headaches that go with them. The biggest one of which is lobbyists. These well-funded special interest groups headed by lawyers and slick PR and misinformation teams make legislating anything that will affect them in even the slightest negative way darn near impossible.

Let's take oil and coal as the best examples. Both are dirty and cause environmental degradation, not only at the site of extraction, but also when they are burned. But they are valuable commodities that every nation craves. With concerns over climate change and the effects of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, the solution to most rational people is to burn less and see if we can reverse this trend. It has also been touted as a national security issue from the standpoint that the United States continues to buy oil from nations that wish to see them fail, like Venezuela and nations of the Middle East. Enter the coal and oil lobbies. They toss money around and push their agendas on senators on both sides of the aisle in oil and rich states like Texas, California, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Alaska, to name a few. The dozen senators and dozens of congresspersons will not only vote against any measure that will affect the oil and coal industries, but they will use their influence to table any discussions, to ruin any pending legislation and to eliminate the possibility of getting something constructive done to reverse the current disastrous course the world is on.

With no natural resources (and their accompanying lobbies) to get in the way of progress, Korean legislators see it in everyone's best interests to wean the nation off of fossil fuels. Although the auto and rice lobbies still hold sway over the lawmakers, the subject of fuel sources remains sacrosanct. The lawmakers see new industries that didn't exist previously in their districts. They see jobs and economic growth. They see progress. And most importantly, they see Korea in a position of leadership in the world.

Much of the world may sell Korea short when it comes to seizing a position of leadership in the climate change fight. But with more than 95 percent of all fossil fuels imported into Korea, there is a strong impetus to harness the sun and wind and waves - and even boost the nuclear energy industry.

Until the decision makers in the United States start seeing the big picture and realize that the energy revolution is going to happen with or without them, there is little question who will come out on top:

The ones who want and need it the most.

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