Searching for a More Benign Dystopia

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Myoshin-Ji temple complex, Kyoto

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Toranokowatashi Garden (“Young tigers crossing the water”), Nanzen-Ji, Kyoto

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There is a long history of activist photographers championing the preservation of the environment.  In Australia, Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis produced images showing Tasmanian wilderness under threat in association with the Tasmanian Wilderness Society.  For that matter, in the US there was also Ansell Adams, in association with the Sierra Club.  The images of Japan here show both historical traditions and the wildlife and environment that we must protect from the depredations of the world today.

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Pathway to Honen-In gate, Kyoto

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Much of the developed world is currently in a self-inflicted economic crisis caused by irresponsible economic policies. While this is not the same thing as unsustainable development, the causes are at least in part related.

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Diabutsuden, the Great Bhudda Hall, part of the Todai-ji Temple complex, Nara

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So where does Japan fit into this, how is it doing generally at the moment and what might the future hold?

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Otaru Lantern Festival

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Otaru Lantern Festival

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Japan is well placed in some respects and not so well in others.  One of the areas of concern is the level of debt.  Japan’s debt is over 200% of their GDP, the highest of any country in the world according to the IMF and much higher than Greece for example.  Unlike Greece, though, Japan has the third largest economy in the world in terms of GDP.

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Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa

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Jigokudani snowscape

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After recovering from the war, Japan grew at impressive rates from the 60s to the 80s until there was a crash in stock market and real estate prices in 1989.  The 1990s were stagnant and growth has been moderate since.  Japan remains a major industrial nation though some of its major corporations appear vulnerable.  We have recently seen Olympus lose hundreds of millions of dollars to corruption and kickbacks.  Sony, one of Japan’s largest corporations, has been losing money for the last four or five years and lost more than six billion dollars in the last financial year.  Panasonic is also under pressure and has a projected loss for this financial year of ten billion dollars.

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Baby macaque at Jigokudani, Nagano

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White-tailed eagle near Kushiro, Hokkaido

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Organised society in Japan started in the few large fertile plains and valleys.  Today much of that fertile farmland is covered by urban sprawl.  Of course Japan is not alone in this though as a mountainous country, Japan has a relatively small proportion of arable land.    Japanese governments have tried to protect their agriculture and encourage agricultural self-sufficiency but with only partial success.  Japan is also not favoured with raw material deposits so its prosperity depends significantly on trade.

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Dawn at Otowa Bridge, near Kushiro, Hokkaido

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Japan is the World’s tenth most populated country (at 120 million) though that level is falling and the population aging.  Japan does not encourage immigration which is probably advantageous for them in this era of increasing ecological pressures.

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Whooper swan at Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido

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Steller’s eagle, Nemuro-kaikyo Strait, near Rausu, Hokkaido

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Where Japan does have an advantage is in a reverence for the environment coupled with a willingness of both Government and the population to undertake longer-term actions for the greater good of all.  Many Western countries are dominated by the illusion of the individual – that nothing should get in the way of the greed of an individual or the rapacity of a corporation.  Japan has its share of corruption and organised criminal activity but even so – the Japanese are more inclined than other developed countries to ameliorate the self gratification of the individual for the benefit of society as a whole.  This may assist them to take more effective action on ecological change.

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Silver birch in farmland near Shari, Hokkaido

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The tradition of reverence for Nature may also assist the Japanese to find more effective paths towards sustainable development.  They have an advantage here over a significant minority of the population of the US and Australia who deny the scientific findings on global warming and have no awareness of sustainability.   The danger here is that mindless exploitation of resources may lead to a illusory pinnacle of prosperity.  A concurrent exhaustion of resources may mean that no changes in individual, corporate or government behaviour can maintain anything like that level of prosperity.

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Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikko

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The Government of Japan adopted measures to conserve forests as early as the ninth century.  In the seventeenth century, after one of the fires that devastated Edo (now Tokyo), a Tokugawa shogun was struck by the devastation of forests required for the reconstruction effort.   This led to a system of conservation both enforced from the top and guaranteed from the bottom, as individual families were given long-term responsibility for patches of forest.  However, this responsible attitude doesn’t necessarily extend to the resources of other countries.  Australia, for example, has been harvesting old growth forests to turn into woodchips for paper-making in Japan – partly because the Japanese would not be so foolish at to use their own scarce forest resources in the same way.

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Cornice details, Taiyu-In, Nikko

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Sleeping cat, Tosho-Gu, Nikko

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I read an interesting account recently that suggested that as the Roman Empire expanded it compromised its original agricultural resources and replaced them with newer lands further from the centre of the Empire.  Dacia is one example, for wheat.  Losing some of these remote areas was then a significant factor in the decline of the Empire.

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Ryuzu Falls, near Lake Chuzenji, near Nikko

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Something similar appears to be happening today but the empire is the developed countries’ Empire of Trade.  Many developed countries, including Japan, have compromised their agricultural capacity through industrial development and population growth.  This agricultural capacity is likely to become further compromised over time for reasons including rising population (both in those countries and worldwide), unsuitable agricultural practices, effects of global warming and water shortages.  This may be why countries such as China are currently buying up agricultural land world-wide.  As well as that, demand is greatly increasing due to rising prosperity in China, South-East Asia, India and Latin America.  If agricultural supplies become slowly compromised then trade could become a two-edged sword.  Japan is well placed to deal with this due to its superior social organisation but poorly placed due to its own shortage of agricultural land.

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Lake Chuzenji after sunset

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Kanmangafuchi Abyss, Nikko

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In Conclusion:

Globally, we’re in need of a better dystopia. We’re eating the planet and our future as well. World population is out of control, causing many countries to strip their environment. Developed nations are consuming unsustainable amounts of resources while emerging countries from Asia and Latin America vie to reach the consumption levels of developed countries. Agricultural land and many resources are relatively finite and we’re all so interconnected that no social group or country will be able to hide away for long and pretend they’re not affected.

For a more careful account of these issues see Easter Island – A Parable for Our Times?, especially if you think anything I said above was overstated or inaccurate.  My bibliography for that account is at Easter Island – Wrapup and Contents.

 

10 comments on “Searching for a More Benign Dystopia

  1. […] Searching for a More Benign Dystopia […]

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  2. Phil Lanoue says:

    Excellent images Murray!!
    Speaking of sustainable consumption…
    there is an interesting article in today’s WSJ about indoor vertical gardening in Sweden.

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  3. amberafrica says:

    Stunning photography !!!!!!!!

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  4. […] Searching for a More Benign Dystopia (20 mono images) […]

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  5. […] Searching for a More Benign Dystopia (with particular reference to Japan) […]

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