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  • Writer's pictureArielle Kouyoumdjian

Tales from Korea: James Lee's Climate Story

This clever, vividly written personal narrative offers readers an intimate perspective of Seoul, South Korea. James juxtaposes a nostalgic meditation on the Seoul of his childhood with the pollution-chocked city it is today. On a more hopeful note, James shares how he took climate action, and the insights he gained along the way.

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Politics and Pollution

James Lee, 17, from South Korea and the U.S.

I am 17 years old junior in high school. I was born in America but was raised in Korea for elementary school and in America for middle and high school. Over the years, I realized that my home city, Seoul, has been getting hotter as time progressed and noticed how it could affect the city's environment.

I grew up in many different places both urban and rural areas, including Seoul, California, Illinois, and Connecticut. However, Seoul is the place that I spent the most time in. To me, Seoul is a place with many special memories of me, my family and friends. I wish the world could see Seoul the way I do - as a vibrant metropolis with warm and welcoming people, rich culture and captivating history. Sadly, the rest of the world sees Seoul as a city with one of the most severe pollution levels in the world. I guess the smog's just blinding in every sense of the word.

When I was a kid, I used to be able to hear a bird humming in the morning like an alarm, but now, because of the pollution in Seoul, the sound of the bird humming became part of my childhood memory. Nowadays, because of the pollution in Seoul, those carefree outdoor escapades have become a rarity. Instead of breathing in fresh air and soaking up the sunshine, it's often a case of checking the air quality index before even stepping foot outside. It's a stark contrast to my childhood days.

I wanted to make a positive difference for my environment. Of course, I know that I’m just a 17 year old with barely any life experience, let alone in tackling climate change. Heck, I haven’t even finished high school. Hence, I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to volunteer at Ms. Na Kyung-Won’s office as a campaign volunteer. She is a senator, who is a member of the Congress People Power Party, which is the equivalent to the Republican Party in the US. She is notably the Ambassador on Climate and the Environment, and has represented the Republic of Korea at the COP27 Summit in 2022. She believes that global warming is the biggest threat that humanity has faced. She highlighted the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the world temperature from rising 1.5 degrees. Spending time with her staff has made me realize how the media manipulates people’s perceptions on a certain candidate by spreading false information. I noticed that the media could also shape people’s perception about the importance of the environment by spreading certain ideas about the effects of climate change.

Through this campaign, I learned the importance of being engaged in politics in order to choose the right candidate that supports addressing climate change, instead of choosing a candidate that claims the climate change is just an illusion.

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