Lee, D., and C.-R. Park. 2010. Modern implications of traditional ecological knowledge and practices in Korea: A sustainability perspective. In: Introduction to Aian Eco-Culture. Minsokwon, Seoul (in press).
Modern Implications of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Practices in Korea: A Sustainability Perspective
Dowon Lee1 & Chan-Ryul Park2
1Department of Environmental Planning, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Seoul National University, 599 Gwanakno, Gwanakgu, Seoul 151-742, Korea
2Warm-temperate Research Center, Korea Forest Research Institute, Donnaeko St. 20, Seogwipo City, Jeju-Do, Korea
Why did human started to discuss sustainable development? If people can live forever, why would we have a term ‘eternal life’? If all societies can sustain, should we be concerned about sustainability or sustainable development?
Naturally, as people of dry lands are eager to image a fountain that will never dry out, they are more apt to make stories related to water matters, more often than do people in a society with plenty of water. In the places where they can use plenty of water, not many people will be interested in the fountain that will never dry out. In the society where there is enough food, people may not care about any stories to have a jar of rice that itself keeps producing rice. Similarly, if everyone has enough pieces of land they want to have, there may be less conflict for lands. The idea of sustainable development was introduced because we predict to face unsustainable situation if we do not prepare a wise responses to keep our limited spaces and resources.
Thus, the idea of sustainable development emerged from facing unsustainable reality, and is a topic receiving attention. In this respect, the flow of materials in the traditional society within limited spaces and resources can be a clue to find the solution of sustainability.
Limited living spaces, resources and undeveloped technologies, compared to the present society, are important features of the traditional society. In a traditional society, spaces that people could use were limited due to pre-modern way of travel and communication. In these circumstances, daily lives in traditional Korean societies were bounded by a small watershed and neighboring land area where residents did not have enough resources. Some of resources they had from outside was simple supplementary of what they had within their spaces. Especially, water was one of the elements that limited their lives, since they relied on rice cultivation.
Traditional society not only had limited resources but also lacked ability to process the resources. Given this situation, indigenous people had to rely on resources within their boundaries, which gave strong incentives to keep the sustainability of those. To stay alive, they had to protect natural resources in their local areas and manage landscapes to increase efficiencies. This is why traditional ecological knowledge will become a good resource to seek a way of sustainability in our modern society.
The locations of villages and spatial elements represent an economic way of living, which was an important strategy to survive in a society with limited resources. Even for these days, people start to limit their consumption of resources in hard times. One of the ways to reduce our resource consumption is recycling. Life is sustained by receiving, using and throwing resources, and if it is hard to receive materials, we should reuse them. This behavior can be found among the people, society and countries living based on materials. Considering these characteristics, we compared differences in the flow of resources between traditional and present society with a diagram. As it was hard to supply natural resources in traditional society, they limited uses or inputs and wastes or outputs of the resources, and maximized recycling or internal cycling of the resources to adapt to certain conditions. These features in the material cycling are typical characteristics we can find from traditional societies, which became a basis of material advantage in the sustainable society.
We have discussed possibilities to find a clue for sustainability in a society from traditional ecological knowledge, which started when there were not enough natural resources. We talked about diversity of components, modularity and tightness of feedbacks, which are required for resilience of social-ecological system, by focusing on boundary settings and management, functions of important components, relevant community activities, and management of public property.