While it’s vile, it’s pretty green – something nice to say about North Korea


When you think of North Korea, you think of nukes, human rights abuses the United Nations termed “strikingly similar” to those of the Nazis, its abduction of Japanese citizens possibly numbering in their hundreds in the 1970s and 1980s to teach spies and famine. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, ventilated to his troops that they should be “fully ready for war” at 08:30 UK time on 22 August 2015 after a brief artillery exchange that injured nobody and damaged no property where the first shells headed southwards in response to anti-North Korea propaganda broadcasts (What? You missed the war?). But North Korea has a secret: it’s pretty green. This is just about the only nice thing there is to say about the country, other than that cannabis is widely-tolerated.

Faced with chronic shortages, the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea intends to boost its supply of electricity by up to 50 percent by the end of 2015 by means of several new power stations. It is also pushing alternative electricity sources such as solar. It boasted that six thermal and eight hydroelectric plants already produce much electricity, although drought has sometimes restricted the operations of the hydroelectric ‘uns. That’s pretty green.

Experts counter that North Korea requires more than just new power stations – it has to improve the infrastructure that distributes electricity, maintain plants and acquire spare parts. Supplying its industries and 24 million people with even minimal electricity has long been one of the country’s largest problems, particularly after the Soviet Union, from which it received much assistance, ceased to be in 1991. The international community has offered to assist, but North Korea has declined, conditional as it would be on halting its development of nuclear weapons.

North Korea is believed to produce a paltry 15 terawatt hours of electricity a year, which would power Seoul, South Korea’s capital, for less than four months. A fifth of electricity is thought to go to its million-person military. For civilians, electricity is rationed and there are rolling blackouts. A disproportionate amount is used in Pyongyang, home to less than a tenth of the population, half of which comes from a recently-constructed hydroelectric dam, where workers reportedly sometimes dug with their bare hands.

A senior researcher at Pyongyang’s Academy of Social Sciences, Kim Kyong Il, highlighted that leader Kim Jong-un is fulfilling his promise of improving the lives of his people. Experiments, he expounded, were afoot with wind and tidal power, as the leader pledged in his 2014 new year address. As much as half the electricity in some rural areas was solar in origin, which is surely pretty green. Small solar panels are often witnessed on apartment balconies and sometimes on farms in the countryside. This first Kim called electricity “the engine of the national economy.”

One user of Reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the internet,” agreed that North Korea was indeed pretty green and quipped that its government was so committed to the environment that most people don’t even drive cars. The Korean War of 1950-53 is technically still in progress, ending as it did with a truce rather than a peace treaty.

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”