South Korean Air Quality Concerns Serve as Misinformation Case Study
Though scientific evidence finds the concentration of fine particulate matter 10 micrometers or less (PM10) in South Korea has declined substantially over the past two decades, a majority of residents believe the air quality is getting worse. Many even blame China, a claim also negated by data from the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) and NASA, which shows 52% of PM in Seoul’s Olympic Park can be attributed directly to South Korean factories and only 34% can be attributed to factories in China.
The gap between perception and reality, according to researchers Dongwook Kim, Seoha Park, and Seungkook Roh, is shared information bias and the collective unconscious. More simply, the development and spread of misinformation worldwide. Ever since a 2013 event, when pollution from China actually did reach Seoul, media coverage has been linking “China” with “air quality.” Today, residents and media are accustomed to the association, even if and when inaccurate.
KOREA NOW: The Worst Yellow/Fine Dust Sweeps Korea and Generates Tension with China, March 31, 2021.
Arirang News: Air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths in S. Korea each year | Greenpeace, February 12, 2020.
Why This Matters
Trust in the scientific community is key when it comes to getting the people of the world on board with combatting the climate crisis. Information can be a weapon and false perceptions are dangerous, in climate and otherwise. When believers misplace blame, true perpetrators are able to divert and avoid responsibility. To combat misinformation in South Korea and worldwide, understanding how and why it spreads is essential.
In terms of air pollution, it is a worldwide threat responsible for the death of 6.5 million worldwide annually and many experts believe the figure is massively underestimated. Further, a disproportionate amount of these deaths occur within low-income and POC communities.
Making Sure Science Leads
- Leverage important events to root climate change in the present.
- Incorporate a politically independent and fact-checked system so that people with different views can express their beliefs with scientific support.
- Press social media companies to incorporate fact-checking to combat misinformation.
- Engage in direct action to show the public that change is possible.
- Regardless of whether the public opinion actually reflects reality, credible information that is socially engaging is key.
DW: Why it's hard to care about climate change, March 18, 2022.