Monday, March 21, 2011

Before Japan's reconstruction

I couldn’t get Japan’s nuclear nightmare off my brain all last week. Every morning I woke up with it, every evening I went to sleep with it. It was only on Thursday that I realized that what I was experiencing was exactly like when I mourn the death of a relative or a friend. Even if all my personal friends and colleagues in Japan have told me that they’re “well”.

My colleague Kelly Rigg notes that an unprecedented number of people (6230 by Sunday afternoon) have clicked “like” on her Huffington Post piece of last Friday with a great message of hope (that – unlike the Fukushima nuclear reactors -- the wind farms in the areas worst hit by the earthquake and tsunami had resisted and were producing some of the much needed electricity in the region). I suppose Kelly's piece went viral more than any other because as we were millions experiencing the same sadness last week, we all welcomed a story with a positive spin because we all needed a bit of warmth to compensate.

Now, after reading that Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that his country will need to be “rebuilt from scratch”, I wonder if Japan will seize the chance to become the champion of the emerging green economy, as it needs to re-invent itself again. Hopefully, the story of the wind farms resisting the earthquake and the tsunami will act as a strong incentive.

I have a strong memory of my visit at an amazing “Eco-product” fair in Tokyo in December, 2009. I had mixed feelings when I came out of this annual event that gathers close to 200,000 professionals and where hundreds of brands (including all the Japanese flagship corporations like Sanyo, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Sharp, etc.) display all sorts of innovative products which purport to enhance a sustainable lifestyle.

I discovered there many interesting energy efficient products,sustainable architecture devices and design propositions, creative renewable energy applications, and numerous tools and gear designed to support sustainable mobility (hybrid trucks, cars roofed with photovoltaic cells, electric bicycles, etc.) but what impressed me the most was the buzz and expectation around all this. On the other hand, I came out wondering why a great number of these products were on display-only, why corporations were keeping them in their drawers, and I asked myself when they would become available on the market. Generally however, I came out enthused and convinced that Japanese firms were making big efforts to position themselves for the green economy, investing considerable amounts of resources to look for responses to environmental challenges. My impression was that what they were showing at the Tokyo “Eco-product” fair was only the tip of the iceberg, that they must have had a lot of unpublicized projects in their back pockets. I thought that the corporations with the best propositions would get ahead of the curve in the race for the green economy when and if they’d decide to implement them seriously.

[I also remember a number of typical trivial “greenwash” items at the fair, such as for example a small heater powered by an “efficient reusable battery” to hold in your hands outdoor in the cold; when I told the charming young hostess on the Sanyo stand that I knew of a better eco-product called “gloves” to heat my hands, she did not know what to say]

After Fukushima, the definition and meaning of expressions like “low carbon footprint” and “low carbon economy” that were common at the “Eco Product” fair will need to change in Japan and elsewhere. Like in France, these expressions in Japan have been largely used as a synonym for “nuclear power”. “Eco-friendly product” is another one that needs to conform to actual societal and individual needs, not trivial consumerism.

Let’s hope the Japanese people will put their fertile and creative minds to work, and take advantage of the crisis to accelerate the greening of their economy. And of the rest of the world.

This blogpiece is also available in español, HERE (AQUÍ) on the website of the Spanish news agency EFE.