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When will Japan stop devouring its

Subject: When will Japan stop devouring its world?  from the Asahi  Evening News

"Japanese consumption patterns call for the appropriation of two - fifths of
the world's shrimp and one - third of its tuna (one quarter of all traded
marine products), the largest share of its tropical timbers, . . . "

Asahi Evening News 
Oct. 19, 1996

Point of View
by Gavan McCormack

When will Japan stop devouring its world?  

Special to Asahi Evening News

Facing a more than usual round of crisis and change, the Japanese
electorate is showing less interest  than usual in the Lower House
election. One reason is because it knows that it has no choice in the large
questions, such as the drastic restructuring of the country's security and
defense policies, or dealing with the huge and burgeoning national debt.  

Voters know that the large questions of identity, and of the kind of
regional and global message that Japan might communicate to the world, will
be decided in Kasumigaseki rather than Nagatacho.  

As for the issues that are being presented as fundamental to the election --
the consumption tax and administrative reform -- the promises of the
candidates are likely to be worth little. Just as the 1993 election produced
a chain of coalition governments and policies completely unexpected by the
electorate, so a similar outcome is likely in 1996.  

After a bit of tinkering with the system following the election, "business
as usual" will continue, regardless of the shifting pattern of party

What is certain is that no politician will mention the hardest truth. The
100 - year system of mobilization of people and resources to achieve
economic growth, the national faith of GNPism, is no longer viable. If all
countries followed the Japanese path, five or six planets would be needed to
serve as sources for the inputs and sinks for the waste required by their

In per capita terms in the early 1990s, Japan was consuming energy and non -
renewable materials, while producing carbon dioxide and other wastes, at
rates around 10 times greater than would be its entitlement under any
equitable global "ration." Japanese consumption patterns call for the
appropriation of two - fifths of the world's shrimp and one - third of its
tuna (one quarter of all traded marine products), the largest share of its
tropical timbers, a similarly disproportionate share of beef and other
meats, of all grains, and increasingly of fruit and vegetables.  

Government sources note that Japanese consumers appropriate the agricultural
produce of a land area two and half times the size of that which lies within
Japanese territory. As the region, and the world, faces steady increases in
population and small ones in production (and actual decline of global output
in important areas such as grain and fish), there is no room in Asia, or in
the world, for another Japan.  

Since it declared itself in favor of sustainability at Rio in 1992, Japan
has quietly shelved the hard questions of structural change that will be
required to achieve it. Some of the best work on the implications of
sustainability is being done in Europe, by the Wuppertal Institute in
Germany among others.  

Its position is that no more of a renewable resource should be utilized than
can regenerate in the same period and that only that amount of materials
should be released into the environment that can be absorbed there. At the
same time, the use of energy and throughput materials must be cut to a
low-risk level, and an equitable balance in access to non-renewable energy
and raw material resources must be achieved (which will mean a massive
reduction in the flow of those materials to the industrial "North").  

In order to achieve both a more equitable global access to world resources
and to restabilize the ecosphere, the industrial countries in general,
including Japan, must "dematerialize" their economies (or reduce the
physical flow from the ecosphere into the economy) by a factor of about 10
in coming decades.  

For Germany, Wuppertal envisages an immediate and total halt to
encroachments on the national land in the name of urban and transport
development, a slashing of carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent by 2010
and 80 percent by the year 2050, and of nitrogen gases by 80 to 90 percent
over the next 10 to 20 years; a total phasing out of nuclear power; the
switch from  chemical to organic agriculture; the reduction of fossil fuel
use by 80 to 90 percent by the early 21st century and the rapid expansion of
the use of renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power.  

The projection into the 21st century and on a regional basis throughout East
and Southeast Asia of the Japanese way of mass consumption, mass waste, and
"affluence," points in a precisely opposite direction. The Japanese pattern
of development and the Japanese lifestyle is not only inimical to
sustainability but its regional expansion ultimately threatens both peace
and a stable international order.  

So long as Japan enjoys the "Northern" privilege of consumption of global
energy and resources on a grossly disproportionate scale, the regional and
global order which it defends will be fundamentally one of privilege. To
achieve the commitments entered into at Rio (and subsequent conferences)
will require an immense social and political transformation, not the
tinkering envisioned by current debates. It is time for electors and
politicians alike to begin to reflect seriously on what sort of world they
would bequeath to their children and grandchildren.  

(The writer is a professor of Japanese history at Australian National
University and visiting professor at Ritsumeikan University)