Monday, June 30, 2008

Responding to Climate Change

An article in the Mainichi Shinbun (毎日新聞) outlines a report released by the Japanese Government's Ministry of the Environment. Among other measures the report suggests building a dam on the Tone River to ensure water for rice agriculture and the forcible relocation of residents in coastal areas that are in danger of flooding.

To read the full article click here.

In terms of "resiliency", these kind of large-scale, intensive responses raise some alarm because of the unintended consequences they might have. Dams, for example, have extremely short lives and can cause havoc without appropriate institutional support to maintain them.

I think government officials, including those in Japan, need to think more carefully in order to develop constructive responses to environmental changes of all varieties. Hasty responses done at large scales often have unintended consequences, which, by the time they come to light, are difficult to maneuver around because the social-environmental system is locked into a certain mode of operation. I argue that slow, diverse, and flexible responses are often much more effective in dealing with changing environmental conditions.

Otaki, in both good ways and bad ways, is a reflection of differing responses to not all environmental--but also economic, social, and political--changes. Local responses based on a depth of environmental knowledge and rooted in local social and cultural institutions have been much more effective and beneficial to the long-term health of Otaki's social and natural environments, than those made at higher levels, which often fail to account for local environmental, social, and cultural impacts.

There are lessons to be learned here, and yet the Ministry of the Environment presents only bigger and more intensive responses. God save those living on the shorelines. . .or under the god-damned dam!

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