PCDForum Column #64, Release Date November 1, 1993
by People’s Research Institute on Energy and Environment
In official discussions of the environmental crisis, one important reality
is consistently ignored or denied Sustained economic growth is simply
incompatible with environmental protection. Japan and other industrial countries
must trim their economies to reduce the burdens our lifestyles place on the rest
of the world.
Energy consumption and related CO2 emissions are central. As a Japanese
citizen organization we are deeply concerned that Japan’s carbon-dioxide
emissions are the fifth highest in the world and our per capita emissions are
now twice the world’s average. A number of proposals have been offered by the
Japanese government and business community to address the energy issue through
techno-fix approaches to conservation and conversion to renewable energy
sources. It is also proposed to use pricing mechanisms to internalize full
environmental costs in product pricing.
Studies carried out by our institute, however, conclude that while such
measures are important they cannot be considered more than partial answers. In
the end, it will be impossible to resolve such problems as global warming, ozone
depletion, and radioactive waste disposal until we address the real issue:
economic growth. Economic growth invariably involves net increases in energy
consumption, in the extraction of material resources from the environment, and
in the disposal of wastes into the environment. We must slim the economy itself
through structural and lifestyle changes and eliminate growth as an imperative
of our economic systems. Both production and consumption must be made
In the case of Japan, our economic growth has not only had negative
consequences for the global environment, it has created trade conflicts with
other industrialized countries and has depended on sacrificing the Third World
by extracting its resources, stripping its forests, and exploiting its workers.
Eliminating the excess fat from the Japanese economy is crucial if we are to
live harmoniously with the rest of the world. Having been a leading contributor
to the world’s environmental and economic crisis, Japan must now provide the
world with a new and more positive example of economic leadership.
There has been almost a near taboo against discussing the fundamental issue
of life style change in public policy forums, perhaps because of the assumption
that real reductions in consumption would seriously undermine the economic
system. Actually, reducing consumption need not be a particularly frightening
prospect. We have examined the possibilities of an economic slimming approach in
a computer simulation that introduces measures such as the following:
- Restrict Advertising. People are freed from image oriented consumption by
gradually reducing advertising expenditures.
- Increase Durability of Goods. Planned obsolescence is phased out and the
life-spans of houses and social overhead capital extended.
- Streamline Government. The number and size of government agencies and staff
- Reduce Trade Surplus. Japan’s trade surplus is eliminated and Japan’s share
in world exports is reduced to the 1960 level.
- Revise Employment Relationships. Working hours are shortened and job
sharing is introduced to address unemployment pressures resulting from reduced
Our model shows that if economic growth continues at the present rate, GNP
and income will double the 1990 levels by 2010. Land prices will triple and the
number of cars will double, requiring massive investments in new infrastructure
as urban congestion increases. The trade surplus will grow to ten times the 1990
level, sharply increasing Japan’s export of unemployment to the rest of the
world and bringing trade conflicts with other countries to a critical level.
Under an economic slimming scenario, household income would drop to a
significant degree, but so too would land prices, related costs such as house
rent and housing loan interest payments, and the prices of many basic
commodities. The number of cars would remain at current levels, urban congestion
would be arrested, and new capital investment needs would decrease. Overall
energy demand would be reduced to two-thirds of the present level, nuclear power
generation would be eliminated, and carbon dioxide levels would be reduced to
75% of the 1990 level. We would have more time for family and community life,
enjoying inexpensive necessities and carefully using durable goods with minimal
environmental destruction. Overall, the quality of life of the Japanese people
would be significantly improved.
The full report, "Our Choices for 2010: From Minamata to the Global
Environment" is available from the People’s Research Institute on Energy
and Environment, OG 103, 1-5-8 Komagome, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 170 Japan; Fax
(81-3) 3945-9441 for US$29 including postage. This column was prepared and
distributed by the PCDForum based on the report’s summary, entitled "Toward
a Slimmer Economy."