The author’s recent visit to Japan as part of CMC’s Sustainability Bhutan field experience, made it clear to him that Japan is a highly developed, disciplined and seemingly, environmentally-conscious nation.
Despite this aura of civic awareness, Japan is not an all-together environmentally-friendly nation.
Consider this information:
- Japan’s historic role in WWII resulted in it being the recipient of the only two atomic bombs ever dropped on one nation by another
- Japan, having virtually no local energy resources beyond eolic and solar, is currently one of the leading nations in relative consumption of fossil fuels
- Acid rain has become a major problem in multiple areas of Japan, wind patterns playing an important role near urban centers, the principal emitters
- Massive industrialization in Japan has placed severe pressures on the country’s natural environment,
- A large appetite for fish protein, has lead Japan to severely over-exploit its territorial waters, and to tax the world’s marine resources through both illicit/invasive fishing practices, and massive imports of marine resources, including dwindling/endangered fish species,
- Japan vehemently opposed the 1982 IWC resolution to phase-out commercial whaling
- The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear disaster of 2011
- Late arrival of environmental legislation in Japan 1967
- Environmental Agency (regulation), not established until 1971
- Pollution of lakes and rivers continues to be a major problem. Principal sources being industrial effluents, untreated sewage and phosphate-rich detergents
- Japan currently has 537 endangered plant species, 33 bird species and 29 mammal species on-land, marine figures being far worse
According to a recent Japan – Environment article released by the Encyclopedia of Nations, “Japan had the world's fourth highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 1.09 billion metric tons per year(…).Nationwide smogalerts, issued when oxidant density levels reach or exceed 0.12 parts per million, peaked at 328 in 1973 but have declined to 85 (…) following imposition of stringent automobile emissions standards”.
Though the pristine and orderly Tokyo, recently visited by the author, in no way gives the impression of a Nation facing serious environmental challenges, and one could be tempted to reason the 328 smog alerts of 1973 were merely a development phase left in the past, a closer look at this densely populated 145,936 square mile island nation of 126.8 million people, suggests otherwise.
Of course, Japan is not alone in facing such local/global environmental challenges, but if one considers that Japan has roughly one third of the 325.7 million inhabitants of the US (2017), and is 1/26 the size, while maintaining a high standard of living and consumption, its numeric patterns of environmental degradation and over-exploitation of global resources become more readily visible.
Interesting to the author, are the potential contributions of WWII and the 21stcentury Fukushima disaster to the already unsustainable exploitation trend equation.
Let us first consider WWII, which aside from being a massive drain of material, labor, and environmental resources for the small island-nation, causes it to fall to its knees after the United States dropped its first 15 kiloton atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. 70,000 people perished instantly in the blast, and an estimated 70,000 to 75,000 more died later from radiation.
Sciencing explains: “A single 15 kiloton bomb detonated over the center of Hiroshima near the end of World War II, destroying everything within a 1-mile radius of the city. The effect on the immediate environment is one of total devastation. The extreme heat of thermal radiation burns everything in its path, including animals, trees, buildings and people. Many of those who did not die from radiation or burns later developed cancers from the radiation”.
In addition, “The detonation of an atomic bomb creates radioactive dust that falls out of the sky into the area around the site of the explosion. Wind and water currents carry the dust across a much larger radius than the initial explosion, where it contaminates the ground, water supply and the food chain”.
According to Quora, it took Hiroshima nearly 20 years for a viable city to emerge from the 1945 catastrophe. Though Uranium 235 was used in the blast, having a half life of 700 million years, the detonation took place more than 500 meters above ground. This altitude was selected for maximum destruction, but had the ‘advantage’ that much of the radiation was carried off in the mushroom cloud and deposited, diluted, in what came to be known as “black rain”.
In essence this meant that the bomb site exhibited intense radioactivity for the first few hours, but that thereafter, danger to plants and animals (including humankind), diminished rapidly. US surveys of Hiroshima a month after the explosion, found little radioactivity in the devastated city where lilies, charred by the blast, were already beginning to turn green, and red canna flowers were starting to bloom.
Nagasaki was bombed 3 days after Hiroshima, bringing WWII to a rapid close. The Nagasaki bomb was a 20,000 ton Plutonium based artifact compared to Hiroshima’s 15,000 ton Uranium bomb, however, the short and long term effects in both cities were similar, and appear to have been of limited long-term consequence to Japan’s environmental history by many scholars.
Turning to Fukushima’s 2011, disaster:
“The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an energy accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Fukushima Prefecture, initiated primarily by the tsunami following the Tōhoku earthquake on 11 March 2011” (Wikipedia).
According to the independent.co.uk, Fukushima’s accident (occurring shortly after a 9.0 M earthquake off the East coast of Japan), achieved the maximum rating of 7 on the scale of nuclear disasters. Though this figure is equivalent to the infamous Chernobyl accident, Fukushima is worse for one reason, it “… is still boiling its radionuclides all over Japan”. A fact that according to brainz.org, makes this site the “most radioactive place on earth”.
A 2017 study titled Effects of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster on Japanese Ecosystems was published by Stanford University. Again, surprisingly, it appears that although “The health of ecosystems immediately surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is threatened by radioactive isotopes that easily bioaccumulate, such as I-131, as well as isotopes with long half-lives, such as Cs-137. The natural resilience of marine ecosystems and the rapid diffusion of radioactive isotopes has led most scientists to conclude (…), that no adverse health effects will be observed in animals in these nearby ecosystems”.
These surprising findings, linking Japan to some of the most newsworthy destructive calamities related both to mankind and the environment, lead the author to the conclusion that, for all the sensationalism surrounding major world “catastrophes”, it is the slow, relentless, thoughtless and self-serving over-exploitation of the world’s natural resources that is placing not only the island of Japan, but the world, into a slow but steady collision course with the natural balance needed to sustain both humans and countless other species.
It is difficult to understand that, as these modest words are written, World Leaders, with limited clout and more political rhetoric than true will, are meeting to discuss climate change - while other Leaders - with the political clout, but ideologically contrary to conservation, will reverse existing environmental protection laws in favor of potential short-term gains in GDP.
From this standpoint, perhaps the world has much to learn from the environmental components of tiny Bhutan’s GNH (please refer to related blogs)…
- Japan environment – nationsenciclopedia.com
- Environmental issues in Japan – Wikipedia
- Japan and United States compared – nationmaster.com
- Hiroshima: Dropping the Bomb – BBC
- Environmental effects of the atomic bomb - Sciencing
- Hiroshima, then and now – BmStyle
- How long did it take Hiroshima and Nagasaki to recover – quora.com
- How long did it take for Hiroshima to become livable again… – quora.com
- Why worry about Fukushima – huffingtonpost.com
- Hiroshima returning to life – pcf.city.hiroshima.jp
- Energy of (Nagasaki’s) Nuclear explosion – The Physical Factbook
- Fukushima (…) worse than Chernobyl – independent.co.uk
- Ten most radioactive places on earth – Brainz.com
- Effects of Fukushima nuclear disaster on Japanese ecosystems – large.stanford.edu