From the Viewpoint of Environment
Good morning. I am studying the subject of environment and sustainable development − a difficult issue to come up with any answers − with young people at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies of Waseda University.
Today, I would like to talk about what the mutual relationship between population and environment is bringing to our society and to our natural ecosystem. I would like to shed some light on its problems and how we should go about solving this extremely difficult situation in the future from the context of relationship between Japan and rest of the world.
What is important when dwelling on the issue of population and environment is the fact that two types of environmental destruction is taking place in the world at the same time. One is the pollution of affluence − a destruction of the environment owing to affluence − that is taking place in industrially advanced countries that we live in. On the other hand, pollution of poverty − a destruction of the environment owing to poverty − is taking place in the developing countries in a significant manner.
I wrote here a very well-known formula that has been proposed for many years by Dr. Paul Ehrlich who is engaged in the study of animal behaviour at Stanford University; "I=PAT". "I" stands for "environmental impact". "P" stands for "population" and "A" is "affluence". "Affluence" is a term that primarily refers to material richness and abundance", although in this case it is freely translated to represent "per capita consumption". "T" stands for "technology including the social system".
The factors that determine the product of "population" and "per capita consumption" include income and social system − for example, whether a country has legal and administrative systems that leave pollution to take its own course・・・ Or an issue of people's awareness. These are the factors that determine the outcome.
The third variable is "technology". For instance, in the case of agriculture, agricultural technology relying on the use of large amounts of agricultural chemicals is causing contamination of water and soil worldwide. Agricultural technology involving input of chemical fertilisers and agricultural chemicals in vast quantities is placing heavy burden on the environment.
For instance, Japan has a law called the Water Pollution Control Law, and 23 varieties of hazardous chemicals are constantly monitored in accordance with this law. Indeed, 16 of them come from agricultural chemicals. In other words, the sum total of the product of I = PAT can be reduced if technology that lessens the burden on the environment emerges through innovation of this "technology", or if social system can be changed or if awareness can be changed. Dr. Ehrlich is arguing that technology has potential for reducing its burden on the environment depending on how it is used.
This formula is very convincing when you live in a developed country and thinking about this problem. It is a waste of resources and energy or environmental destruction originating from abundance. On the other hand, however, I think that it contains a kind of optimism often found in civilization theories of industrially advanced countries, particularly in the U.S., or a way of thinking detached from the realities of the developing countries.
This is Ohmori Recycle Center of the Tokyo Metropolitan Cleansing Department; not a furniture store (photo). This is what it looks like when you collect the furniture thrown away at dumpsites of Tokyo and line them up. My impression after traveling all over the world is that no other country comes even close to Japan when it comes to using things in such an expendable manner. They are sold at very low prices so people who don't mind used furniture can obtain them at dirt cheap prices.
This is garbage piled up out in the open at Disposal Site No. 13 outside of Yumeno-shima Island (photo). Huge amount of furniture is disposed after the staff reassignment and moving during the graduation/enrollment in March, for instance and exceeded the incineration capacity of the disposal facility. If you look closely, you will see massive amounts of paper and wood in the garbage. They consist of fragments of furniture and containers among other things, but what is very important is what we see behind these things. Some may see the destruction of tropical rainforest.
You can also see black-headed gull, the symbol bird of Tokyo. What this means is that there is raw garbage underneath (photo). Seagulls are omnivorous so they eat raw garbage. As you know, Japan's food self-support ratio is below 40%. This is by far the lowest among the OECD member countries which means that Japan is dependent on import for very large number of items. We need to keep in mind the fact that there are staving people of the developing countries, estimated at 700 to 800 million, at the backdrop of the garbage that the seagulls are scavenging.
It makes sense when we apply Paul Ehrlich's concept that I just mentioned to Japan because Japan's population is predicted to reach its peak in another 5 years in 2007 to reach 127.78 million, and will continue to decrease thereafter. Births and deaths become almost equal and population becomes constant when a male and female couple has 2.08 children in average. The present average birth rate in Japan is between 1.33, and is low as 1.01 in Tokyo. Population is decreasing at such a steep angle and predicted to go down to 100.5 million by 2050, which means that there will be a rapid decline of 27 to 28 million people in 50 years from now.
If we take a look at the reality of our consumption, we live in abundance and basically have everything we need. Domestic demand shows no signs of increasing despite all the efforts that are being made in that direction. It is very difficult to think about further economic growth and consumption in such context.
Moreover, people's awareness has gradually shifted from pursuit of material wealth to search for richness of spirit. Paul Ehrlich's concept is very effective and convincing when applied to a country like Japan.
However, the situation in the developing countries is totally different. I would now like to change the point of view to the developing countries. Typical destruction and contamination of the environment due to poverty continue in these countries.
This is a goat climbing a tree. This goat climbed a tree because goats are special in the sense that they dig out the root of grass with their hooves after eating up all the grass. Cows and sheep do not do that, so the grass will grow back in the meadow even after it is eaten up by a large herd. However, goats dig up the root of grass with their hooves. When a large number of people become refugees in arid regions with ongoing war such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, millions of people build camp. Naturally, they seek refuge by travelling with one or two goats. More goats become necessary as new babies are born to the refugee families. Then the goats run out of food and eventually start climbing trees. Such tragic situation is taking place, offering an example of how increase of population beyond the mechanism of production would bring about critical environmental destruction.
For example, this kind of landscape can be seen in the slopes of Bhutan and Nepal facing the Himalayas where population is rapidly increasing. Livestock continue to increase rapidly towards the threshold limit of its subsistence. Top soil erosion is taking place in a very intense manner and turning the ecology unsuitable for habitation by humans and other organisms. In such a place, people have no choice but to live like this.
I will tell you what this would bring about down the road. When it rains in this condition, waterways are naturally created and rapidly wash away the top soil. This is called "gully" in English. When rainwater flows down repeatedly from cultivated land to topographically lower areas, top soil becomes completely lost in extreme cases such as this to make production impossible.
When this happens, it is no longer possible to restore the original condition. In other words, it is an irreversible change. People will have to abandon their land.
You may have a premonition that China's food policy would have a decisive impact on the future of Japan. I am doing a project study with my students at my seminar. Two years ago, we started a project with the Beijing University Graduate School to verify from the viewpoint of agriculture and environment whether China is capable of becoming a stable and sustainable society. Various observations can be performed depending on what aspect of China you look at, but our hypothesis is that very dangerous situation is in progress.
China's population is increasing at a horrendous rate and is estimated to have come close to 1.3 billion. One-child policy is a policy that is implemented for urban residents and is not applied to rural areas. To put it in extreme terms, conditions are being applied with more lenience in rural areas in that couples could keep having children until they have a son. There are also many children that are not included in the register. For example, children disappear in a flash when we visit rural villages because the person accompanying us as a guide is often a member of the local communist party. You sometimes see 5 children in a household that is supposed to have only 1 child. Kids that are prowling about here and there are not on the register so it's inconvenient for them. You witness a situation where children scatter like birds in reality.
Furthermore, China is a multiethnic nation but all ethnical minority groups are excluded from the one-child policy. We actually do not know how fast population is increasing among ethnical minority groups. In spite of the organization prevalent in the Chinese society, dynamic trends in population are not clear.
A major policy worthy of attention is currently under way in China. It is called "Tai Ko Kan Rin." These four Chinese characters stand for "retreat", "cultivate", "restoration", and "forest", respectively. As you can see from these characters, this is a policy encouraging people to abandon farming and plant trees on their farms with the intent of returning it to forest. It is being implemented simultaneously in 17 provinces of China as a major policy of Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.
The reason behind the need to implement such policy is the worsening situation with the drying of the Yellow River. For example, the water of Yellow River dried up along the way and did not reach the sea in 270 out of 365 days in 1997. Meanwhile, the situation of the Yangtze River is that major floods, typified by that of 1998, has been occurring repeatedly. Therefore, the flooding of the Yangtze River and drying of the Yellow River are shaking the colossal rivers that are the two major resources of China and threatening the agricultural and industrial production of their regions.
It is said that there is only one cause for this flood and drought. Forests from midstream to upstream were cleared and converted into farmland. Marginal lands and steep slopes that were not suited for farming were reclaimed partly because of the self-reliance policy of Mao Tse-tung. As a result, soils started eroding in large quantities due to wind and rain. So people in China are desperately planting trees and grass, making the area off-limits to keep away people and livestock. Agriculture has been abandoned and efforts are being made to recover forest at all slopes having gradient of 25 degrees or higher.
Farmers that have abandoned agriculture receive, in the case of upstream basin of Yellow River, 100 kilograms of grain for every 0.7 ares of land from the government. The policy differs from river to river but covers all rivers.
After studying these sites for a long time, it appears to us that about half of such efforts have failed. Trees dry up and do not take root because of the low water-holding capacity of slopes.
Why did the Chinese government resort to such a policy? To put it simply, our impression is that the agrarian civilization in the Yellow River basin that had continued for 6,000 years started its major withdrawal strategy as a result of population pressure. We can say that human activity and capacity of nature are reaching an impasse in this manner. This is an issue of fact that cannot be helped by ideology. People at Beijing University share this view of ours.