Monthly Archives: January 2007

Gross National Happiness is, well… gross

In my last post I talked about “Tradable Energy Quotas” or TEQs and why I dislike the term. In a related conversation with growthmadness I mentioned why I like Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to such measures as TEQ, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP), but not its name. So I guess I better explain myself.

The problem begins with the name. Gross National Happiness is poking fun at GNP, where Product is replaced by Happiness. This seems fine, until you think about the suggestiveness of the gross national. These two words are used together as a set, and it has connotations of economy and economics. So any term which are used with it will be linked to this two-word set. And in the same manner, TEQ reeks of economist’s deodorant.

The environmentalists’ choice of Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and Ecological Footprint (EF) are milder terminology. Since progress has been enlisted into the Postmodern lexicon to have a negative meaning it has the ability to affect change.

GNH may need to be repackaged if it is to be accepted. The “karma” left by GNP must be exorcised. Apart from this Gross National Happiness is a great concept, one that may actually save us if implemented properly. The question is only, how?

My thumbs down to Tradable Energy Quotas

Lately people have been talking about “Tradable Energy Quotas” or TEQ. And I have been exchanging opinions with a fellow green blogger about it. The gist of my dissatisfaction with it is that I have seen many buzz words come and go that I do not think this one is any different.

By placing the environment in some kind of countable term and making it a national-level project immediately raises my suspicion of it. Instead of the environment being about countability it should be about accountability. And rather than it being on the national level it should be on the personal level.

Too often we are trying to make things a national or social responsibility. But it should start with each person. The more people needed to be involved in something the less effective it will be. That is why smaller groups and communities are more effective in tackling problems, not just environmental ones.

I used to scoff at family values. I used to do my scoffing most likely because I was single and I was at the minority end of the family unit. But now that I have own family I realise how important and how well it can work if there is trust. And that trust can only come from being familiar with every other member of the unit.

Community values work the same way. Growing up in the city I saw how neighbours kept to themselves, guarding their lives behind closed windows and drawn curtains. Privacy was the all consuming concern, and not how the neighbourhood, as a whole, is going. Having moved into a small rural Japanese community of three hundred people about four years ago I have come to understand how just important it is to be part of an open community and to work with people to create a better environment which does not end at your front door or property fence.

This unfettered trust can only come about by knowing the people who are in that unit or community. It is about (inter)personal responsibility, and not just responsibility by legality or social etiquette. Again the family unit is a place where this can be seen clearly; the access to personal space, finance, etc, areas open to abuse by other members are placed in check by only trust and responsibility.

Without these two factors – trust and responsibility – there can be no openness. And none of these can be measured, nor should they be.

So from which end of the wire shall we pollute the Earth with?

Why are we such suckers when it comes to electric cars? All we are really going to do is plug it into an electric wall socket so that the fossil-fueled power station at the other end of that wire can pump the same amount of – if not more – greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Haven’t we realised that the car makers are laughing all the way to the bank?

A green politican acts and speaks big

This is a great little interview from the BBC with Derek Wall. He is the ‘principal speaker’ for the British Green Party. If only I were English I’d vote for this guy. I didn’t think it would be possible but you can be a politican and be genuine and honest as well. It just means you don’t get very far. But at least one’s integrity is still in tact.

Australia and China signs uranium agreement

According to today’s print version of the Daily Yomiuri (Reuters) Australia and China have signed an agreement allowing Australia to freely sell uranium for nuclear energy to China.

Australia and China ratified a Nuclear Transfer Agreement and [a] seperate Nuclear Cooperation Agreement on Thursday in Beijing, with the second agreement opening the door to civilian nuclear cooperation between the tow countries.

The article states this will double Australia’s revenue from uranium exports to one billion Australian dollars (USD787 million).

Oze to become national park

The Oze area will become a new national park separate from the Nikko National Park to which, at present, it is a part of.

The ministry hopes the decision will allow the new Oze park to clearly differentiate itself from the Nikko area, a sightseeing spot widely known for several cultural attractions, and make it a model for new national parks more focused on natural conservation.

Read the rest of this article from the Daily Yomiuri.

Japan… more productivity, smaller population?

In today’s print edition of the Daily Yomiuri Hiroko Ota, Japanese state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, is quoted as saying on Wednesday, Japan must reform its labour market in order to continue growth and increase its productivity in order to compensate for its aging and low birth-rate society. The comments were made during a discussion with Edward Lazear and Matthew Slaughter, both members of US Council of Economic Advisors.

But really should not this be an opportunity to show responsibility for ecological sustainablility by not producing and consuming more, but rather to reduce? While I understand the concern that it is important to maintain the nation’s standard of living this should not be a time to increase it. There is nothing to say that a shrinking economy moving in line with a shrinking population means a lowering of the standard of living. As long as productivity per capita is maintained then increased productivity would be unnecessary and therefore should not be the aim.

In our time of need for global environmental responsibility the government rhetoric should reflect this in their goals and actions. A missed chance for leadership in this area. It is a shame, really. How silly to talk of growth when everything else in the country is shrinking.

Don’t get confused

My wife wrote my mother, who lives in Australia, a letter. She wrote about how warm it has been in Japan this winter, about how glad she is it hadn’t been too cold. I asked her if she knew just how bad a sign that is for our future. She said she knew but she still preferred warm weather.

I told her we could move to Malaysia but then, eventually, we would have to move back here to the mountains of Japan because the weather in a half century’s time would be what Malaysia is like now.

“I still prefer the warm weather,” she insisted.

You really can’t argue with logic like that.

Japanese government to set new “sea sanctuary” category

The Japanese Environment Ministry has opened a 10 person panel of experts to discuss the definition and the process of designation of coastal and other water areas as “sea santuaries”. This comes after a 1992 study found that over ten percent of tidal land in Japan have been lost since 1976 and about three percent of marine forest has also been lost in the same period.

The article only gives these dates. But I would not be surpised if these are the latest figures. It usually takes about 10 years for the Japan government to act on any approved proposal. That means any action from this panel will probably only take effect in 2017 at the earliest. You can call me cynical but must also call me a realist.

Click here to read the full article from Daily Yomiuri.

Searching for Bobby Fischer’s playing partner

My brother-in-law came over with the family for New Years as usual. And everytime he comes we play “a friendly game” of chess. But really it is all very serious. It is about pride.

This year he bought a chess set and a book for beginners for his elder daughter. But I suspect the book was for himself more than anything. But there is nothing wrong with that. You need to study chess, like anything else, to improve. I have a dozen books on chess myself and I still do not consider myself strong at all. But, at least, I am stronger than I would have been if I didn’t read them.

Flicking through the book I found it surprisingly good. It included all the basics and a little bit more to get you started. The book was by Miyoko Watai. The name caught me by surprise. Not because she is the head of the Japan Chess Association, but rather she was the one Bobby Fischer was living with when he returned to our consciousness from hiding in 2004.

Using Amazon Japan I discovered there are only 87 books on chess in Japanese. Whereas Amazon US lists 65,700 titles for chess books in English. This just goes to show how little interest there is in chess in Japan. Anyway, I recommend the book to any Japanese interested in chess. It is as good as any beginner’s guide to chess written in English. I can safely say Ms. Watai does knows her chess.

I am really looking forward to the next match with my brother-in-law.

Is cloned food safe?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to endorse that cloned food is safe. If given the go ahead FDA will allow the sale of cloned cattle, pig and goat, but not sheep, pending comments over the next three months and final approval.

But is cloned food really safe?

Sure, the direct result is just a cow, a pig, or a goat. But, surely, there must be a reason why nature “chooses” to make every single organism across species as well as within species different.

This reminds me of the Borg Collective in Star Trek: The Next Generation. If one central area is attacked successfully the whole system collapses. That is not so far fetched. We have examples in our modern world. Disease is one.

Take Aids, for example. It is a virus which knows how to bypass the body’s defences. But not everyone is susceptible to the disease. You may be a Aids carrier but may not be HIV positive. In other words, variation helped contain Aids in this instance.

Variation in life has this important function. It simply means we react or relate differently to the same conditions. On the biological level this has saved us from completely being wiped out.

Rat plagues work in the same way. I once watched an old Eastern European television documentary on a rat exterminator. He gave a step-by-step psychological guide to the rat socio-structure. There is always one rat which is smarter, or less trustful of the exterminator’s method. Literally. this man would feed the rats right out of his hand. He gained the trust of the rats infesting a farm. Once they trust has been created he begins to feed them rat poison out of his hand. But the rats ate the poison becuase of the established trust. Even as the other rats around them were dying the rats continued to accept the “food”. The remaining handful of rats which were cautious to his “gifts” were then killed with a rifle. In this way he was able to exterminate an entire rat population that had taken over a farm property. If some were left behind this would be disastrous because you then have supersmart, superwise rats the next time around.

But coming back to cloned food, why are we in such a hurry to sell it? Are we in some kind of meat shortage that I do not know about? It seems it is all about money, and nothing else.

Why are we always trying to play God? Make yourself heard that you don’t want cloned food before it is too late, especially if you are an American citizen.

Don’t forget to have your say over the next three months with the FDA.

Seeing Red and White

The end of year Red and White Song Contest (Japanese: Kouhaku Uta Gasen) has just finished here in Japan. What it is is a competition between male and female Japanese music artists. Each side has about twenty members singing their songs and judges decide which side overall wins by vote.

Why it is called “Red and White” is because the male is White and the female team is Red. This has been the tradition and it has been going on for sometime now. This year the MCs were Yukie Nakama, a popular young actress, and Masahiro Nakai from the immensely popular group, SMAP. While Ms. Nakama was rather awkward, Mr. Nakai was the veteran that he is.

The highlight must have been DJ Ozma’s over the top caberet-style number where he had dancing girls filling the entire stage. Some were seemingly topless when in fact they were wearing bodysuits with a female anatomy print design. NHK, the government channel which produces and airs this show, got a number of phone and fax complaints from viewers, to which one of the MCs had to explain while on air (this show is live).

In the end White Team (the male side) won through a tight vote – audience and television viewers were given a chance for giving one extra vote overall.

A note on why white for men and red for women – red and white are the two colours of the Japanese national flag. So, slyly, patriotism was injected to a seemingly an innocent annual event for the family, for New Years in Japan, unlike the West, is a family affair, and not one for spending with friends.

So better luck for Red next year. But now we all know either way the real winner every year is Japan.