Posts Tagged ‘economics’

A Demographic Transition, Indeed

Japan’s population is declining at a rapid rate as the average age of its citizens climbs. Having peaked at nearly 128 million people in 2004, when those aged 65 or over comprised about 20%, the population is expected to drop to 95 million by 2050, when the share of senior citizens will be about 40%.

And the rate is increasing, with 2012 marking the steepest drop ever for the second straight year, with deaths outpacing births by 205,000. For the first time, the proportion of elderly 65 and over surpassed the number of youths age 14 and under, in all 47 prefectures.

The near and medium term implications of this change are mounting. With elderly farmers dying off and those remaining having more difficulty being alone, there continues a flight to urban centers. Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya now host nearly half the entire population. If government agricultural subsidies are cut from passage of the TPP trade agreement, it is sobering to think of what that will do to the remaining small farmers and their land. The government already spends over a third of its income supporting the elderly. But can this huge outlay continue?

After all, in 1965 there were nine workers paying taxes for every retired person. Now there are just two.

Everywhere one looks across society there are impacts to be seen, economic, social, environmental. To be sure, a falling population will require less energy and consume fewer resources, but one wonders what kind of infrastructure will meet the remaining demand. Hopefully it will be a relatively soft landing, but the risks of it being hard, or at least turbulent, are huge.

In any case, the scale and nature of this demographic transition is unprecedented in the world. I believe this is the first time a highly industrialized country has faced such a persistent and profound decrease in population. And when taking into account all of its attendant challenges and implications, it is an open question whether this unfolding could possibly result in a resurgence of satoyama spirit – albeit decades hence, when the population returns to Edo-era numbers. One can only hope.

Credit: Japan for Sustainability

Credit: Japan for Sustainability

 

Could Japan Return to an Edo Period Lifestyle by 2050?

Once again, UN University’s Our World 2.0 web magazine has published an outstanding essay well worth re-posting. The Future of Food in Japan, authored by the site’s editors in their usual clear-eyed fashion, touches on a host of daunting issues and challenges facing the country’s food self-sufficiency, energy security, and lifestyle in coming decades.

The writer’s compelling analysis aside, the links alone make the piece worthwhile (see, for example, Antony Boys’ pioneering and thorough analysis of the relationship between agricultural productivity and energy scarcity written in 2000 – a paper that long ago helped shape this blog’s theses).

But what is especially interesting – vis-á-vis Satoyama Spirit’s notion of Japan’s eventual return to a resilient lifestyle based on harmony with nature – are the as-yet-unread-by-me views of Eisuke Ishikawa, a prominent author who writes about the Edo Period. The Our World 2.0 article says:

Under present trends, the food supply problem will evolve and significant difficulties will emerge. Boys himself refers to the work of Eisuke Ishikawa, a writer on the Edo Period economy, who talks about the state of Japan in 2050 (“2050 is the Edo Period”, Kodansha, 1998) and essentially describes something like a “slow crash” — dwindling imports, falling exports, economic and population decline. (While there is no English translation of this book, you can read similar works by Ishikawa on the Japan for Sustainability website.)

Ishikawa’s work (at least those translated into English, care of JFS’s above link) are undoubtedly on my short-list of anticipated readings. Hopefully, they will provide the impetus for a future post (or posts!).

 

 

Ecosystem Services as a Concept is Gaining Currency

In what is undoubtedly a positive development for the natural world, the concept of “ecosystem services” is poised to go mainstream. This is a good thing because the concept is based upon the idea that our status quo economic models do not properly recognize the value of so-called externalities and fail to take into account the “services” that complex and biodiverse ecological systems provide to humanity. Seeing the world through such expansive eyes – through the wide-angle lens of ecosystems – is a refreshing, and promising, departure from the conventional narrow economic mindset. As such, one might say (pun intended) that the concept is, er, “gaining currency.”

For all of its promise, however, I would argue that its worth is really as a “bridge concept” – an advance to be sure – but nonetheless just a stepping stone on our longer path toward a greater awareness of our proper relationship to Nature. To arrive where we really need to go we must expand our awareness in ways that are not easy for those of us embedded in the modern world. Toward that end, I am offering the following (lengthy) email dialogue in the hope that it might contribute to progress on our individual and collective journeys. Continue reading

A nuke-free Japan in the near term?

Given the inherently un-sustainable nature of nuclear power generation – to say nothing of its profound lack of resilience – I have no doubt that the future of Japan, and indeed the world, will ultimately be nuclear free, perhaps within mere decades (albeit with residual nuclear contamination persisting for tens of thousands of years, well into the “Long Now”).

But what I hadn’t anticipated until recently is the possibility of Japan shutting down all of its nuclear reactors within months. Yet it is a real possibility, and if it does happen it will propel Japan far ahead of other industrialized countries in transitioning to a more harmonious relationship with nature. Continue reading

To Serve the Ecosystems that Serve Us

The following article appears in Our World 2.0. It is a modified (improved!) version of a an earlier post on this blog. Thank you, OW2.0, for picking this up and helping spread these ideas!


What if we changed our relationship with the natural world from one of taking what we can to one of reciprocity and mutual giving?

The International Satoyama Initiative, formally launched at this past October’s COP10 Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya, Japan, provides an important boost to preserving traditional forest and farmland (satoyama), and seaside (satoumi) ecological production landscapes around the world. Its aim of restoring a balanced and sustainable harmony between humans and the natural environment is something no one could argue the world does not need.

However, is the proposed cure for satoyama’s current degenerative state — assigning such biodiverse landscapes value in direct proportion to the “ecosystem services” (the benefits of nature to households, communities, and economies) provided — adequate to the task? Or does viewing nature in such a calculated way, and justifying its preservation based on the things it gives us, simply perpetuate the tired old (yet sadly still quite widely-held) myth of nature existing for our benefit? Continue reading

Further signs of change in Japan: Portent or promise?

Inspired by the quickening pace of change occurring in Japan and around the world, a few weeks ago I began drafting a blog post tentatively titled, “Japan as Number One, Again?” in which I argue (as I have in previous posts – for example, here) why I believe that Japan is poised to once again become a world leader, not in conventional economic terms of course, but in something more elusive and subtle, but ultimately more important.

However, events and other articles have overtaken my relaxed timeline for completing my draft post and I want to share some of these recent developments right away. But first, here is a preview of my draft to provide context for what follows: Continue reading

From Ecosystem Services to Gift Culture: An Overdue Change in Perspective

What if we changed our relationship with the natural world from one of taking what we can to one of reciprocity and mutual giving?

The International Satoyama Initiative formally launched at this week’s COP10 Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya, Japan, provides an important boost to preserving traditional forest and farmland (“satoyama”), and seaside (“satoumi”) ecological production landscapes around the world and restoring a balanced and sustainable harmony between humans and the natural environment.

But is the proposed cure for satoyama’s current degenerative state – assigning such biodiverse landscapes value in direct proportion to their “ecosystem services” provided to humans – adequate to the task? Or does viewing nature in such a calculated way – and justifying its preservation for the “services” provided – simply perpetuate obsolete, if widely-held, myths of human separation from nature and nature existing for our benefit? Continue reading