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November 30, 2006


Living with limited capacity and resources -- considering the future of the earth from the viewpoints of food, agriculture and the environment.

prof_furusawa.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Kouyu Furusawa, professor of ecological economics at Kokugakuin University

When we think about the environment, it is very important today how we link ourselves with the global issues. In this lecture, I would like to pick up "food and agriculture" as a clue, which is quite a familiar theme to any of us, and talk about how the world should be now and in the future, while focusing on their relation with the environment and sustainability indicators.

From the history of humankind's development

What kind of age do we live in? It is important to understand where we are now from a long-term perspective first and think about the future in the next place. For this purpose, I chose four basic evaluation indicators -- population, energy, traffic and information -- and plotted a graph with each of them on the Y coordinate. It is shown on the second page of the reference materials distributed today.

Let's take population as an example. It has increased from approximately 1.5 billion to 6.5 billion over the last 100 years, which is more than fourfold. Before that point, the graph only draws a very gentle curve. It is explicit evidence demonstrating how rapid change the 20th century and the subsequent days have faced. Energy consumption shows far shaper increase in recent years. How will they increase over the coming 100 years?

In this way, it is essential to grasp the trend in changes of the human activities from a long-range perspective. For example, when did such changes start? If we look back the human history from the viewpoint of the environment, many interesting facts come to light. In fact, a major change in the environment started as early as in the Age of Geographical Discovery around 1492, when Christopher Columbus set out on a voyage.

Characteristics of development pattern of civilization and sustainable development

When we roughly grasp the pattern of development in the human civilization, the following three characteristics are observed; (1) geometrical growth and expansion, (2) a problem of globally-skewed distribution of wealth, where the richest fifth possesses more than 80% wealth of the world, or typically the widening gap described in wineglass-shaped chart in the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1992 describing global economic disparities, and, at the root of the preceding phenomenon, (3) monocultural development where efficiency is pursued based on the single standard of value.

In short, the conventional development pattern with the above three characteristics is not sustainable. If I use simpler words, sustainable development means aiming at economic development based on environmental justice and social equity.

When you consider the environmental justice, recall the three criteria for sustainable development by Herman E. Daly, an ecological economist, which was introduced in the previous lecture:

  1. Non-renewable resources with limited reserve should be substituted by renewable resources;

  2. Harvest rates of renewable resources should not exceed regeneration rates; and

  3. Use of substances that may pollute the environment should be minimized.

The three conditions are easier said than done. If human beings behave only under such restriction, however, sustainable development becomes possible in theory.

How environmental space should be measured?

No consensus has been built for what environmental justice means, as a variety of opinions exist based on the difference in measures of evaluation. On the other hand, there is an experimental approach called "ecological footprint", an index of measuring environmental space, which means to what extent the resources can be used under the resource and environmental constraint that has been proven by this moment. For example, it is an index that represents how many earths would be necessary if all people in the world adopted a lifestyle of a specific country in terms of resource consumption and environmental load. If all people enjoyed the lifestyle in today's Japan, two and a half earths would be needed. If it was the lifestyle of the American (USA) people, five or six earths would be required.
For details, see the WWF Japan's Living Planet Report or the Ecological Footprint Japan site.

As for environmental space, there is an effort to establish indicators of sustainability in a broad sense that includes social equity by Japan for Sustainability (JFS), coordinator of this college, in addition to the eco-space study that I was involved in.

Production, consumption and disposal system in today's society

Next, if we try to systematically represent the expansion of human activities, it will be a flow consisting of intake, production, consumption and disposal (partly recycling) of resources. The flow is the same even for the whole world, a country or an individual person.

Then, on which side is the environmental load reaching the limit; input or output? Input means the use of resources for producing products and services, while output means discharge of contaminants and carbon dioxide from the production and consumption processes. Regrettably, no single clear answer can be prepared. However, I can pick up many concrete examples of data.

Let's consider one numeric value about the input; oil resources. An issue named "Peak Oil" is attracting attention these days. It means the peak of the production of exploitable crude oil. Then, if we liken the volume of Mount Fuji to one measuring cup, how many cups would the current oil reserves be?

I just wanted to visualize the limitation of oil resource. The answer is less than one cup. We have consumed 70 to 80 billion tons and the maximally estimated oil reserves are said to be approximately 300 billion tons including unproven ones. Recently, China is enormously increasing oil consumption and has exceeded the one of Japan. The world will consume more oil than ever.

One of the data explaining the output is atmospheric concentration of CO2. Although COP12 and the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 2) were held in Nairobi the other day, prospect and strategies about reduction of greenhouse gas were not finally determined. It is about the future impact, but some of you may have seen the movie The Day After Tomorrow, which describes phenomena induced by global warming in the near future. The disastrous flood in the movie became a hot topic later as a prediction of disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.

When we see the UN's global review of disaster reduction initiatives, it is evident that natural disasters occurs more frequently in recent years than ever and the damage has amounted to a colossal sum. Estimation of the scale of not only the disasters induced by global warming but also other natural disasters has become the greatest concern for the nonlife insurance industry.

Environmental space in terms of food

How will these extraordinary trends on a global scale affect Japan? What came across my mind was the food self-sufficiency rate. The Japan's rate is only 40% and thus is very vulnerable to the influence from other countries. Approximately 700 to 800 million tons of goods, including food, are flowing into the country every year. As the total volume of goods traveling the world by sea is about 4 to 4.5 billion, it means about one fifth of such goods are imported to Japan, surprisingly.

Japan's total land area accounts for only 0.2% of the world land and its population makes up only 2% of the world total. We can understand how large amount of resources the country consumes. Thus, Japan's affluence is said to be a house of cards. Food Miles is an index to quantify the movement of food. It is the product of volume and distance of the goods transported. As transport is a significant cause of CO2 emission, its influence on global warming can be calculated as shown in the reference materials. Japan imports seafood from all over the world, which is described as "flying prawns" and "flying tunas". Only in this small category of food transportation, it is clear that Japan consumes vast amount of energy.

The "Love the Earth", diet for the earth campaign, an effort to visualize such problems, was conducted in 1997 and 1998, when the meetings for the Kyoto Protocol were held. It was collaboratively sponsored by NGOs that deal with the environmental issues and international cooperation, where environmental space was provisionally calculated and applied to each of the concrete campaign activities. As explained in the campaign, the food self-sufficiency rate was over 70% only 40 years ago and many dishes cooked from domestic and local harvests were spread on the table in those days. Now, our meals are largely dependent on the food imported from all over the world and therefore the food mileage and energy consumed in food transportation are substantially increasing. It clearly indicates how closely the food and the global environment are related with each other.

Historical viewpoint on the world's agriculture

Today, New-Continent frontier-style agriculture that handles fields of hundreds hectare and Asian-style traditional agriculture having limitation on scale must compete with each other in the same global market. The problem lies in the comparison based on a single standard of value that completely ignores the difference in the geographical, cultural and climate conditions. It will lead to the conclusion that import is recommended due to its low cost, compared with the high cost of land and labor in Japan.

When we see the direction of the development of agriculture, rapid progress toward monoculture and expansion in size is apparent in a global scale. The 21st century, however, seems to mark a turning point, where the two trends -- the monoculture that tries to expand to outer spaces and the diversified but regional development that effectively utilizes limited resources -- strive with each other. In the distribution and consumption processes as well, antagonism between two opposing ideas, i.e. Fast Food vs. Slow Food, has become evident.

The distance between food production and consumption began to cause a variety of problems and the dietary habit that only pursues speed and price is accused. In the U.S., the birthplace of fast food, one third of citizens are obese (overweight) and criticism against the food industry, which is regarded as being responsible for the current situation, is growing. Supported by the belief in mass production and scientism, genetically modified foods are becoming popular in recent years without substantial debate about their influence on the future health and environment,

New efforts expanding for sustainability

Against the backdrop of such phenomena, efforts to realize organic agriculture that is based on the local connection and relationship are expanding globally. In the Edo period, environmental-conscious and recycling-oriented society was formed in some ways, based on the abundant knowledge that people had to conserve the immediate natural environment including hills and mountains near human habitation. For example, versatility of straw is very interesting. Even ash was used for dyeing and pottery and it formed a perfect cycle of production and consumption. Attention should be paid to the point where the religious and spiritual aspect like mental connection to the gods is also incorporated into the system, like Shimenawa, decorative straw for celebration of New Year, and the sumo wrestling ring.

The zero emissions model advocated by the United Nations University is a kind of modern revitalization of the old wisdom accumulated in the traditional recycling-based society. "Eco Town Project", or an environmentally-friendly community building plan promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of the Environment, is also an effort to revive the wisdom in old days. If we turn our eyes to larger cycles, a variety of thought and practice are being developed, including Japanese-style bioregionalism that connects forest, rivers, seas and human habitation, permaculture (permanent and composite agriculture and living), where traditional wisdom and modern science are combined and a variety of power of nature are mixed and used in a composite way, and agroforestry that aims at merger of agriculture and forestry.

Fair trade is a movement that has social perspective and has become popular in recent years. We tend to seek less expensive goods. But, how will the world be changed, if environmental or social values are incorporated in consumption behavior? If we take consumer products as examples, coffee, banana and the materials of jeans are mostly produced in developing nations. When we see the actual money circulation, however, most of the product price is paid not to producers but to developed nations that get a grip on advertising, distribution and processing. Reasonable compensation is not paid to the poor people who work hard at the production site.

The movement does not limit itself to criticism. In conventional companies and industries, a business innovation is also expanding, focusing on how they create a new value ahead of the time. A LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) business is a typical example. Its fashionable aspect might has been excessively emphasized, but what lies at the base is an idea and thought that thinking about our health leads to the reduction of loads on the global environment.

Social and economic system in the future

At the beginning of this lecture, I placed emphasis on the time scale. Here, last of all, I would like to summarize from the spatial viewpoint -- in both microscopic and macrocosmic scales.

Efforts for realization of sustainability has started at a variety of levels; from environmentally-friendly products and goods called "eco-products", to each individual's lifestyle, regions as in "Eco Town" and international society. I believe that the key to success depends on how comprehensively and in an integrated way the governments' policies regarding such efforts will be formed.

To accelerate such innovation, "technical innovation" in business communities, "legal restrictions" like laws regarding the environment and "economic instruments" such as economic incentives will be required. More basically, no innovation will be made unless "citizen's awareness" is developed with emphasis on the environment. In large, these four factors are combined to promote a shift to a sustainable society. If the shift gets stuck, it means there is a problem in any of these four factors.

As a perspective of the world's future, a system where three socio-economic sectors are mixed will be important (see the last page of the reference materials). When the "government failure" occurs in the public sector and the limitations of market fundamentalism becomes obvious in the private (company) sector, the citizen/community sector that will compete with, complement or replace the role of the governments and companies is counted on. Therefore, as a future socio-economic system, I believe that society and business activities that are not only based on the economic profit and control principles but also on the collaborative/cooperative principle will be one of the central pillars for building a sustainable social system. In short, my challenge today is to identify how the sectors should be balanced in the society where three sectors coexist.


Dr. Koyu Furusawa is professor of ecological economics at Kokugakuin University in Japan. He received his master's degree and Ph.D. in Agronomics at Kyoto University in Japan.

He is greatly concerned about the global environmental issues, especially about the sustainable development from community level to the global level, and takes part in some NGO activities. He is studying interdisciplinary field in wide perspective, such as "ecological space project (a joint study on global equity, equal access to resources and environment)", trade and environment issues, international cooperation on sustainable development (related with Official Development Assistance) and social studies on ecology movements and socio-cultural paradigm and so on. He attended the NGO forum in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, Earth Summit in 1992 and Johannesburg Summit in 2002.
He is chief executive of "JACSES : Japan Center for Sustainable Environment and Society", environmental NGO and also board of director of "JANIC : Japanese NGO center for International Cooperation".


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