East Asia’s lack of focus on ecology

Sean Michael Wilson
Oct 1, 2019 · 4 min read

Here is a very telling image: it contrasts the amount of trees planted as part of the Trillion Tree Campaign, in Europe and in East Asia. Quite a difference. Even at a first glance we can see that the amount in Europe looks to be something like 20 times that in East Asia.

The Trillion Tree Campaign is part of UN’s effort to “…respond to the challenges of global warming, as well as to a wider array of sustainability challenges from water supply to biodiversity loss…” they say that “Global reforestation could capture 25% of global annual carbon emissions.”

What we can see here is that Japan, both Koreas and China are way behind in this very important conservation and renewal effort. And that includes at the grass roots level. We see nothing like the very impressive school strikes for the climate that are currently happening in many other parts of the world. Tony Yen notes in relation to Taiwan that: “In Taiwan, no major climate action occurred in the week to disrupt the business-as-usual life of the public…”. I’m in Japan now so I will focus mostly on a key - but almostly completely ignored - habit that is doing great damage to the environment in cities here.

I have written various articles, such as this one in The Japan Times, about how in Japan there are less and less trees in urban areas, due to the very bad habit of clearing ALL the greenery from a garden when a new house is built — and often not replanting a single tree in their place. Oh, but leaving plenty of space for cars, obviously!

This appears to be done for a few reasons. Firstly, its easier — the trucks and machinery can get into the often small sites more easily if all the trees are rooted up and got out the way. The fact that enough room would probably be made by just getting rid of around half the trees, on couple of sides, seems to be too much bother. Secondly, it’s cheaper than carefully digging up the trees, storing them and them replanting them after the new house is built. Thirdly, it may be that the ‘clean slate’ look of the completely empty lot has a purity to it that fits with the shinto worldview. A special ceremony is conducted on the new lot, to do with purifying past influences and blessing the new house to be made. I’m wondering if a ‘Oh, and sorry we killed all the trees’ apology to nature is included in that ritual.

A sad but typical example of what is going on. This area once had a beautiful garden and old style Japanese house. All of which was 100% destroyed. Currently an apartment block is being built there.
This is what it looked like before. Not only is this a loss to the environment but also to Japanese culture in general. Soon enough these wonderful old houses and gardens will only be seen in period drama television.

Despite the image that Japanese people love nature, urban settings are undergoing a very considerable decrease in gardens, with trees being seen as a nuisance that attracts bugs and sheds slippery leaves, etc. Often this is done by a house building company that, ironically, loudly exclaims how ‘eco’ it is. No, you are not — destroying trees is not an ecologically sound policy. The situation is getting so bad in Japan that in the near future 100,000s of streets will have almost no greenery on them at all, apart from pathetic little boxes of greenery that can be seen in the photo below.

This area of this new building previously had about 15 old trees on it. Now replaced with car spaces and one tiny green corner — as almost an insult to nature.

Not only is this bad for the environment, its bad for people too. Various studies have confirmed the link between green space and health, such as a study in the Netherlands, that concluded: “This research shows that the percentage of green space in people’s living environment has a positive association with the perceived general health of residents. Green space seems to be more than just a luxury and consequently the development of green space should be allocated a more central position in spatial planning policy.”

What with the recent focus on the huge fires in the Amazonian rainforest its become well known that a lot more needs to be done toward reforestation and the protection of existing green areas. In terms of concrete action in the urban areas of Japan that means:

1. Stop destroying all the trees, plants and grass when making a new house.

2. If it is necessary to destroy some as part of making the new house then re-plant as many as possible later, to a statutory minimum of 25% of what was there before (25% may not seem a lot, but as the above photo shows its far better than a tiny amount or nothing at all, as is normal now).

These two are simple aims, easily achievable, that can genuinely treat the urban environment with the respect and appreciation is deserves, for the sake of us all.

Sean Michael Wilson

Written by

Scottish writer working with Kodansha, IDW, New Internationalist, Japan Times, etc. More than 30 books published. Nice! http://seanmichaelwilson.weebly.com

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Sean Michael Wilson

Written by

Scottish writer working with Kodansha, IDW, New Internationalist, Japan Times, etc. More than 30 books published. Nice! http://seanmichaelwilson.weebly.com

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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