Japan considers green future after nuclear disaster

February 11, 2012
Brendan Barrett


Redeveloping the communities affected by the tsunami will bring the considerable challenge of balancing the speed of rebuilding with the consent of the people. For instance, the government is considering building new housing on hills away from the coast, using the coastal plain for agriculture. It has also proposed consolidation of the smaller fishing towns into large industrial fishing ports. These proposals have been unpopular with the local fishing communities.

In particular, with peak oil on the immediate horizon, it is important to ensure that communities in the Tohoku region are resilient against future fuel shortages as well as in the face of climate- and natural disaster-related risks. In terms of food production, the disaster-affected prefectures are some of the most food self-sufficient in Japan, providing Tokyo with many agricultural products. If these areas were to shift toward mechanised industrial agricultural systems, through the consolidation of farm holdings, they would become increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of peak oil (because industrial agriculture is heavily mechanised and consumes large quantities of fuel).

The experience of the Transition Movement - an international network of cities and communities working to build resilience in the face of climate change and peak oil - could be helpful in guiding reconstruction efforts in Japan. The Transition approach can be particularly instructive in demonstrating how to rebuild using bottom-up rather than top-down methods (the top-down approach has been characteristic of most Japanese eco-towns). The Transition Movement promotes action at the local level and encourages communities to draw on their own creativity, building on existing regional resources.

One of the first Transition Towns, Totnes in the United Kingdom, has developed its own Energy Descent Action Plan to try to reduce local dependence on fossil fuels. Another UK Transition Town, Lewes, has introduced a local currency designed to support the town's economy and to protect the environment (because buying locally reduces transport needs and carbon emissions).

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Photo: Flickr/Tex Texin

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