Posts Tagged ‘transition’

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

 

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

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

Village Simplicity – Ideal or Real?

The following excerpt is from Duane Elgin’s classic book, Voluntary Simplicity. In it, Ram Dass wisely speaks to the topic of a previous blog post in which I discuss “the simplicity which lies on the other side of complexity,” except that he does so in terms specific to village life and our tendency to idealize the traditional lifestyle: Continue reading

Finding simplicity on the other side of complexity

Oliver Wendall Holmes quipped, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

What does this have to do with satoyama? It speaks directly to the nature of the change we’re facing as a humanity. And it suggests the value proposition offered by a satoyama socio-ecological production landscape. As we approach the limits of industrial society, constrained by the earth’s finite natural resource endowments, we are being pushed, and pulled, past our current way of thinking that falsely assumes many things, including the possibility of endless growth, the promise of endless technological progress, and that we are somehow separate from nature itself.

Continue reading

Japan’s strength, and future, is rooted in their ancient connection to nature

In last Sunday’s Japan Times article, To realize its cultural potential, Japan must celebrate its strengths, Kyoto-resident Roger Pulvers hits a positive chord when he asserts that Japan must celebrate its strengths, but says that they’ve already missed the opportunity to capitalize on manga, anime, sushi and karaoke. (See my published letter to the editor here.) Continue reading