Dr. Ke Chung Kim, professor of entomology at Penn State, is committed to saving Earth's biodiversity, especially the biodiversity of the demilitarized zone in Korea.
Calling himself a "science diplomat," Penn State's Dr. Ke Chung Kim, professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, has worked his
entire career to bring people together to literally save biodiversity and consequently the human species.
believes that the rapidly growing population of our planet, development and the rapid loss of species - some we weren't even aware of - could lead to a dangerous loss of biodiversity, which we need to sustain human life and the planet.
According to Kim
, of the more than 10 million species in existence on the planet, we know about barely 17 percent."The population of our planet has gone from 1 billion to 6 billion since the 1800s.This has a great impact on biodiversity loss.We are continuously losing species.
"Biodiversity is not only a numbers game," he
continued."Our own life support system depends on it.We have to find a way to preserve as much as we can.
Preserving biological diversity and restoring the natural landscapes of the Earth is critical to sustaining human life, Kim
"Biodiversity is the natural resource that is basic for human life," he
added."The preservation of plant, animal and microbial diversity and of our landscapes is essential for the well-being of humans and for all other organisms."
is a national and international leader in teaching, researching and articulating the criticality of biodiversity for our world.His
efforts have made and continue to make major positive impacts on students, governmental leaders and all citizens."
While a faculty member at Penn State
science "diplomacy" to bring together the Pennsylvania Game Commission
, the Fish Commission and the Department of Environmental Resources
- three groups that had operated independently before Kim's
1991 meeting, held in Harrisburg.Through their dialogue, the agency heads decided to come up with an assessment of biotic resources in the Commonwealth.Out of that meeting came a booklet, A Heritage for the 21st Century, which became the point of an active, broadly based movement for Pennsylvania conservation.This effort eventually led to establishing the Pennsylvania Biodiversity Partnership last year, through Gov.Tom Ridge's 21st Century Environmental Commission
.Kim also has established Penn State's Center for BioDiversity Research, authored or edited about a dozen books, written countless articles and delivered public lectures in the United States and abroad.
sees himself as first having the obligation to educate the campus, followed by the public and the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, he
also believes he
has responsibilities on a much larger scale.
One of the places Kim
has been interested in saving is the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea, an area about 155 miles long by 2.5 miles wide.In the approximately 50 years since the end of the Korean War, the DMZ has been closely guarded by both North and South Korean troops, as well as barbed wire fences.Without the intrusion of humans over that period of time, species have been allowed to thrive, and the lands have been able to return to their natural states.
The DMZ is unique in that it contains a cross section of all of the different natural environments of Korea, from farmlands to forest and lowlands to mountain ranges.From what scientists can tell from research conducted in the Civilian Control Zone, which borders the DMZ, many endangered or already extirpated species remain intact in numbers, and many new plants and animals have been discovered.Of note are several rare and endangered species, including the white-naped crane and the red-crowned crane, as well as the Asiatic black bear and the musk deer.
Born in Korea, but a U.S. citizen for nearly 30 years, Kim
knew what he
wanted to do with his
life from about the seventh grade.
"I was inspired by a teacher," he
said, "and never changed.My father wanted me to be a medical doctor," he
"‘Why are you chasing bugs? he
would ask.' Because this is what I want to do."Kim holds a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in zoology and a doctorate in entomology.
A self-described "ambitious man with ideals," he
has "a moral obligation to help out Korea however he
can."As a Fulbright scholar in 1975, he
helped initiate and develop the first environmental movement in Korea, and again in 1993, he
helped develop a biodiversity plan for the country.During these sabbaticals, he
also has delivered more than 100 public lectures to discuss the environmental and biodiversity issues of the country.
"In 30 years, the population of Korea doubled," Kim
stated."Korea is the size of Indiana, with 27 million people.They have literally exploited everything they have.Even though they have succeeded in a great economic development and are improving their living conditions, they are living in dire environmental conditions.They have not yet changed the way contemporary economic development is pursued," he
added, pointing out that they have not carefully regarded the impact their development would have on the environment and biodiversity in the country.
In a 1997 Science magazine article, Kim
explained what has happened to the Korean peninsula previously known as "Keum-Su-Kang-San" or "land of embroidered rivers and mountains":
"In South Korea, most natural ecosystems, including large sections of the coastline and salt marshes, have been converted into industrial estates and urban centers.This development has resulted in severe pollution of waterways and farmlands by pesticides, chemical fertilizers and industrial and municipal waste and in massive habitat destruction and fragmentation.In North Korea, rampant deforestation has caused severe soil erosion and flooding, along with environmental degradation by military operations."(Science, Vol.278, Oct. 18, 1997, p. 242.)
Bearing this in mind, along with the fact that the demilitarized zone is the only natural corridor with direct human impact left in Korea, Kim
is compelled to help save it.It is, he
said, "the only resource where they have native species and hereditary materials of endangered or extinct species.So the DMZ must be preserved to save Korea."
As barriers between North and South Korea begin to be relaxed - for example, the emerging bilateral relationships of peace, which brought together separated families of both countries - there is an urgency to bring political leaders together to save the DMZ and keep it preserved as a sanctuary for biodiversity.
In 1995, Kim
proposed the establishment of what he
calls the Korean Peace Bioreserves System (KPBRS), for which a project called the DMZ Forum
was established with the backing of Penn State
's Center for BioDiversity Research, the Wildlife Conservation Society and New York University's Institute of Public Administration
.The idea of the KPBRS is to establish a system of natural reserves in the DMZ corridor for conservation and peace.Toward that goal, the DMZ Forum Inc.
aims to hold conferences, conduct research and reach out to scientists and governments in both countries to save the DMZ
.The organization also has a goal to raise funds to support these efforts.Organization members are in the process of conducting a membership drive; the Sierra Club
and the Nature Conservancy have already signed on.
"I am now sending letters to the leadership of the major political groups in the government, the United Nations and North and South Korean leadership to say: "It is time to put this issue on the agenda," Kim
hopes that his
voice, which is gaining considerable attention in Korea and throughout the world, when added to the voices of others who share his
concerns, will promote DMZ preservation and offer a natural laboratory for teaching, research and outreach.
"Whether you are coming from a religious or a scientific perspective, every individual, all of the world's citizens, are here to help save the human species.It is our responsibility to sustain a healthy environment with rich biodiversity, so future generations can have the privilege of living in it," Kim
emphatically declared, pointing out that Penn State
has been very supportive of his
efforts over the years.
"As long as I can do what I want to do for the good of humanity, I can ask no more."
"If we want to have a sustainable human system, we have to save biodiversity worldwide." - Dr. Ke Chung Kim Professor of Entomology
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