Envionmental Psychology

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Green Revolution and Japan

By Jeanette Joy Fisher

At the end of WWII, Japan began an unprecedented rush to become a world leader in commerce and technology. However, that rush came at a high price to the Japanese environment. Today it appears that their priorities and actions are undergoing a transformation that seeks to put an end to Japan's devastated natural resources.

Part of that transformation, fueled by a revamping of Japan's tax regulations, makes it more attractive for businesses to take the environment into account when they undertake new projects. The new regulations seem to be working, since there have been far fewer environmentally controversial industrial projects in Japan over the past ten years.

Since the 1980s, the focus of what the Japanese dubbed the "iron triangle," which consisted of politicians, industry, and bureaucrats, was on ever-increasing growth, without considering the harm that such growth might cause the natural world. However, recent studies have shown that Japanese citizens are beginning to view the importance of a healthy environment in a different light, even to the point of levying taxes upon themselves to pay for preserving their natural resources.

In an interesting turn of events, one problem that has drawn the most attention in Japan concerns a failed business venture involving cedar trees that were planted for use as timber following WWII. That venture failed because competition from low-cost lumber grown and harvested in China and Southeast Asia eventually made Japanese timber too expensive to be economically viable on the world market. Those trees, which should have been harvested decades ago (at an ideal age of 35) now have grown to cover some 5.6 billion Japanese acres.

As a consequence, every spring those cedar trees now send huge clouds of pollen into the air, causing tremendous difficulty for citizens who suffer from pollen-related allergies in Japan's capital, Tokyo. The situation has become dire enough for the Tokyo government to ask every citizen to donate the equivalent of $13 toward a project that would eventually replace the huge stands of cedar west of the city with a number of varieties of more allergy-friendly trees to create a more diverse forest.

That particular problem is made more pressing in Tokyo's case due the aging of Japan's forestry workers. If the forestry renovation project isn't begun soon, there may not be enough workers left who are capable of handling the intense physical labor involved in thinning the cedar forests, which would mean those trees would become permanent fixtures of the Japanese landscape.

In other parts of Japan, cities have enacted taxes to restore woodlands, to lower exhaust emissions, to improve water drainage, to create hiking trails, and to promote educational programs. It's an encouraging sign that the Japanese have begun to embrace environmental improvement, as evidenced by minimal opposition to recent tax hikes in Okayama ($7/yr) per citizen, Kochi ($7), Kanagawa ($17), and Hyogo ($80).

More and more, it appears as if Japan has begun making the positive changes necessary for them to become a full-fledged member of the world's Green Revolution, which is very good news for environmentalists everywhere.

Copyright 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher

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