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Expectation for Green Economy: a Message from Japan as a Miniature of the World

Expectation for Green Economy: a Message from Japan as a Miniature of the World
Towards Rio+20

Interview with Prof. Koyu Furusawa of Kokugakuin University,
Board member of JWCS and chief executive of JACSES

[NGO global forum in Earth Summit, Rio 1992 Photos by Koyu Furusawa]

--Until today, the Earth Summit has been overseeing the changing times like a metering rod. Coming Earth Summit, dubbed ‘Rio+20’, is said to be “a restart after 20 years since 1992, Rio conference”
What is the implication of coming Earth Summit and what trend of the times does it have?

Prof. Koyu Furusawa (Honorifics and first name omitted from below): The Earth Summit in 1992 was the starting point of a new age in many ways. The Cold War structure was dismantled by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. With that, questions have been raised from the point of view of "the global scale problem" for the first time, and such recognition has since spread across the world. For example, the original draft of “If the world were a village of 100 people”, which became the talk on the streets, was written by Dr. Donella Meadows. She was a member of the Club of Rome (famous for the report “The Limits to Growth”). She conveyed simple messages from “If the World were a Village of 1000 People”, which became the origin of “If the world were a village of 100 people”. Coming Rio+20 will not be a nation-centered but a global-citizen-centered summit. Going back to the fundamental standpoint, it will be an assembly for discussing what has happened in the past 20 years in our global village, and what is going to happen in the 20 years ahead in our global world.

In Earth Summit 92’, two legally binding agreements, Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity, were signed. Now we are facing and being asked to reconsider whether we can really make these treaties, which haven’t been quite utilized yet, work. UNFCCC puts an agenda for ending the “fossil fuel civilization”, which breaks down the balance on the earth by using up exhaustible resources such as petroleum. It also touches upon the related issues of global warming and resource problem. And also Convention on Biological Diversity is expected to build “living life civilization” which has a respect toward coexistence with nature in harmony. According to the Bio-diversity Convention, we now see that there is actually great value in the traditional cultures of the indigenous people and their rights and way of living, which have been ignored so far. Thinking afresh about the meaning of these two treaties born in Rio, I’m convinced that these are the two significant keys for transforming our modern civilization.

And in between 1972, 1992, and 2012, in spans of 20 years, history has been repeated in spiral, and the world has been changed more globally and dynamically. The United Nations held "Conference on Human Environment" in Stockholm in 1972. It was the first major conference on environmental problem in The United Nations.
This was the first wave of the swell of concerns on environment. Minamata disease patients, victim of organic mercury poisoning, from Japan also participated in this conference. They complained about the serious pollution problems and local corruption behind Japan's high-speed economic development. And what is more, it turned out this kind of disaster was not just a local problem of one country. For instance, DDT was found in the penguins of Antarctica. (DDT: organochlorine pesticides, banned in Japan since 1971) These chemical problems, including pesticide contamination began to spread around the world. For instance, due to such influences, birds couldn’t hatch eggs well. The red signal from wild life and the serious problem of their survival was one of the reasons behind the Conference on Human Environment in 1972. Shortly thereafter, an oil crisis occurred in 1973, and "Limits to Growth" gathered wide concerns in the world for the first time. The world population increased about 4 times over the 100 years of the Twentieth Century from 1.5~1.6 billion to 6 billion. The increase in energy consumption is nearly twice as huge, a 7~8 fold increase. The voices of "Limits of the earth"," Limits of resources" have been repeated in history like walking down a spiral staircase. And it has become more globally and seriously. The span of these 20 years is a more expanded form, and it is linking to Rio +20.

--It is said that the themes of Rio+20 are “green economy” related with poverty eradication and “institutional framework " related with reform of the world system and the United Nations. What are they going to discuss?

Furusawa: Underpinning the growth of energy use and population is economic system, basically. And by its globalization, the economy has become affluent with mass consumption enabled by the industrial production system since the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, it has been apart from “real economy” recently, and emerging “financial economy”; which gains profits by foreseeing how to withdraw investments, has come to dominate. Now, in this world economy the scale of financial assets is inflated to more than 3.5 times big against real economic activities. In particular, the problem of the US economy is very large. The US holds a debt (total debts of federal/state/local government, business, household and domestic financial sectors) which is estimated almost a match for World GDP (known as world gross domestic product or GWP). They are up to their neck. Meanwhile, if emerging countries like China and India has evolved economically on a large scale as an alternative, then the earth will no longer hold everything. Burden of the risk that we are holding now is just the tip of the iceberg and there are enormous hidden contradictions. We are forced to choose a structural change and the great transformation to find the exit.

Rio +20 has an aim to improve a socio-economic constitution of the world so called "green economy". It is called "A green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction," but has not decided clear definition. However, the green economy would be considered not only as an economic level but also as a system to capture and hold social issues such as the alleviation of poverty and human rights. Along the way, UN reform has been required and also to be more specific, it is necessary to create a coexistence world in harmony by transforming various mechanism, institutions and the institutional framework. Traditionally, interaction of domestic and global economy and political system has been studied through the concept of "regime of international relations". Recently, various systems, institutions and power balance relations beyond the region of the country has been generated. Especially, the environmental regime has been formed as an intermediate position. For example, climate change towards a low carbon society is called "carbon regime". There are various problems and conflicts over it. We need to think about how we can adjust the complex issues in term of sustainability.

Particularly noteworthy in both the environment and economy is flow of military spending. Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, military spending was reduced by the end of the Cold War. Philosophical principle presented at the Rio Summit in 1992 is as follows. Huge military expenditures used in the Cold War should allot for human welfare, North-South problem, eradication of poverty and environmental issues. And we should live in more peaceful together as global citizens. Once, world military expenditure was reduced, yet again rising well beyond $ 1 trillion annually today. It is nearly 10 times more than the total amount of the world's ODA (Official Development Assistance), about twice the amount of the cost which will be required to combat global warming (according to Stern Review) and 20 times of the amount required to be added to achieve MDGs (Millennium Development Goals).

When considering a green economy, we need to think about not only the introduction of energy conservation, renewable energy, the investment in Smart City, but also, in addition, we need to think about shifting to a fund of peaceful green economy from military expenditures, as the springboard of a major transformation. The thing is how we can convert this green economy into the economic conditions in the current global crisis and a very large strain and risk. There is a challenging task that whether we can open our eyes to the fundamental structural condition, and come out with effective countermeasures.

Originally ecology and economy are the same etymology. They are derived from the Greek word οἴκος. It represents "den", the world we are living. The word "Economy" was born as meaning of managing οἴκος. On the other hand, the term "ecology" was born as meaning of understanding the relationship between οἴκος and living nature conservation. In modern society they became entirely different meanings. But now again, people are considering that this is the starting point to integrate. Namely, it is the time to integrate an economy into greening (ecology).I think a change of awareness of people in "Richness" is happening and we are reconsidering about Happiness. In societies, without having to convert into money, we have many things to be able to enrich the world. Without having economic growth to be evaluated as money and energy intensive goods, without a job for earning a lot, without work greedily, without much money, people eventually go live slowly and peacefully.
Instead of dining out, people can reasonably enjoy the food that everyone brings along as a pot-luck party. We should focus more on real “living economy” not diverting money, shaping the world outlook for the economy in excess. Or should I say we will be on the way to "super economy". "Sufficiency Economy" has begun to be recognized among the people in Thailand and other Asian countries. Rather than just see the world through their own selfish interests, focus on relationships with others for living together. How dare we feel enriched if there are unfortunate people beside us? Again, we will have the richness of our heart, only after we share the wealth and prosperity with others. In this sense, we must consider broadening more of the whole concept of the "Green Economy".

-- Do you think the actual "UN reform" can produce a process for symbiosis? Also is there helpful hint? And toward what?

Furusawa: I suspect that EU and the U.S. may not work well in Rio+20. And emerging countries like Brazil, China and India also seem powerless when it comes to the “philosophical principal”. If countries can not fully function, an anchor should be "United Nations". UN should transcend all national interests and conflict of interests. There is a real need for UN to attempt finding a capability in cooperation with the NGOs. In order to position Rio +20 as the breakthrough, we must build up a series of concrete measures. At the same time, International Year of Cooperatives will be also held in 2012. In the reconstruction of the aftermath of the 3/11/2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the SDF and U.S. forces, major courier and some convenience stores have been highly regarded. But I believe the cooperative sector has committed the most to some extent, such as Miyagi consumer Coop activities which organized local people widely. They supplyed various aid in cooperation among with all other cooperative sectors. In addition, they conducted extensive support in cooperation with local government. In this disaster, there were emerging a lot of cooperative and community activities in various areas. We have really recognized and reevaluated the importance of coordination of people, communities, regional cooperative organizations and NPOs.

Now we are facing the challenge of how to reestablish the communities from scratch.
Before 3.11, Tohoku, located in north east of Japan was an outlying region in this country. Because of aging population, Sanriku fishery and fishing industry had been getting to decline. This earthquake hit fishing cooperatives members and fishermen, now the old organizations are virtually on the verge of demolition. There are two major movements regarding this reconstruction. One of the movements is to remove all the fishing rights that have been practiced as the conventional resource management traditionally in the region. And then a huge capital will take over and make global fish business industry base in the area. It is a reconstructive movement that has the perspective of globalization aiming to form renewed base. Another movement is to center around the local scene. Cooperative organizations will be the core base of their community. It is a movement to develop a traditional relationship and try to compromise with each other cooperatively. Based on cooperation of subsistence fishery, formation of distribution channels more directly to consumers and the various economic zones, community has mainly begun creating a cooperative relationship. In order to prevail in the global market economy, whether we should rush toward to make the base for fish processing industry and industrial complex, or people of the area should autonomously manage and operate for the revival while keeping a local value and maintaining a cooperative philosophy….It has become a fierce argument but the debate for the situation is still very fuzzy.

In line with "public" as public administration and "private" as business companies, domain of "commune" or "cooperative of citizen/community" as social capital is also very important. Social capital is not visible such as material or infrastructure. Core of the capital is, though it is invisible, various relationships and a kind of network. It could be said it is the latent potential power of region and community. It is important how much you have connections and ties with diverse people. If you have it, it will exercise "resilience = readiness and adaptivity" against the risk of disaster. Human relations have been diluted in rapidly expanding commercial area restructuring and massive urban concentration for pursuit of convenience. However in local areas, the system of mutual aid still remains. Main pillar of green economy is not to expand conventional economy by using resources and energy intensively like nuclear energy, but to base the system of decentralization like renewable energy (including biomass). I believe that to continue to maintain an appropriate scale and local community is the key. Green economy should be strongly related with a sustainable "commune and cooperative" sector. (refer to [3 Socio-Economic Sectors])


--Lastly, let me hear about future prospects of the movement in the world and Japan's role.

Furusawa: The biggest concern I have now is that someone may cause war. For nations where domestic problems and contradictions exist, the easy way for them to write off such a situation is to cause war and confrict to make enemies outside to find a way out. I feel most afraid this situation. Even if not that serious, in the days ahead, there will be unrest in countries for deepened conflicts over resource issues and so on. Now, the important way of life is "diversity" which expands various routes and network of adaptation. In this sense, for instance NGO which include diverse people shows you prospect of "Oh, I have this option in life". I think it will be widened and more and more interesting to seek an alternative way of living.

After 3.11, Japan has a chance to present to the world vision and scenario of recovery how our society turns over a new leaf. Japan caught up on the western civilization which the western society achieved over several centuries in a hundred years since the Meiji era. And about half a century after world war, Japan has achieved industrial rapid development and also run through post-industrial society. On the other hand of the bright side, Japan is now facing a contradiction of the modern development system, such as nuclear power plants or pollution problems. Japan has been running with holding inherent conflict of tremendous light and shadow. We have an obligation to share with people around the world the serious reality symbolized by "Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear bomb" "Minamata" and "Fukushima", nuclear plant accident. Appearance of conflict and coexistence of tradition and modernization is a common issue and problem faced by developing countries which is a majority of the world. For better or worse, Japan has condensed many kinds of lessons that world should consider now on. With a view the future civilization will further dematerialization, I think Japan has a tremendous amount of potential of latent cultural power, although national power in a sense of material civilization may be declined. Japan is a typical "miniature" when we view the modern world as the coexisting place for diverse (the intersection of culture and civilization). So we have to do self-disclosure to the world as a social and cultural experiment in a positive and negative way. Like I said before, it's time to find a value in those the most behind thing or the things used be disregarded. I feel hopefully Japan is now in the very best position to appeal to the world that the meaning of being the "A Miniature of the World " and show our potential of transformation.

Japanese Interview, Written by/ Kazuhiko Mori (The Earth News, Sep.2/2011)
Pool coverage/ alterna S, Earth Summit 2012 Japan

Related/URL: http://kuin.jp/fur/kaleidoss.htm

JWCS Volunteer staff: Ayumi Nakajima
Comp. and edit by Koyu Furusawa


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