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The myth of ’sustainable development’ : the ecological footprint of Japanese consumption

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Title: The myth of ’sustainable development’ : the ecological footprint of Japanese consumption
Author: Wada, Yoshihiko
Degree Doctor of Philosophy - PhD
Program Planning
Copyright Date: 1999
Subject Keywords Sustainable development -- Japan; Nature -- Effect of human beings on -- Japan; Economic development -- Environmental aspects
Abstract: Japan has often been cited as an example of a nation which is achieving the objectives of'sustainable development' as advocated by the Brundtland Commission. Various commentators believe that Japan attained rapid economic growth (at least until the current economic crisis which began in the early 1990s) while simultaneously protecting its environment, particularly after the oil crisis in 1973. However, this perspective ignores the fact that Japan's economic 'miracle' still involves the consumption of large quantities of low-entropy natural resources, and makes heavy use of the ecosphere's assimilative capacity for high-entropy wastes. Monetary analyses are excessively abstracted from biophysical reality and are therefore incapable of providing ecologically meaningful indices of sustainable development. Various biophysical approaches to assessment of sustainability have been proposed to fill the gap. In this dissertation, I use one of these, 'ecological footprint analysis,' to reassess the Japanese success story. The ecological footprint (EF) of a specified population has been defined as "the aggregate area of land and water ecosystems required continuously to produce the resource inputs and to assimilate the resource outputs of that population wherever on earth the land/water may be located." It provides a useful sustainability indicator in the form of the difference between a given country's ecological footprint and its domestic area of ecologically productive land/water. The gap between the two represents that country's 'ecological deficit' or 'sustainability gap.' Data from 1880 indicate that the per capita Japanese EF in the pre-industrial era was about 0.4 hectares (ha). By 1991 it had risen to 4.7 ha per person. Far from 'decoupling from nature,' the historic trend has seen a ten-fold increase in Japan's per capita load on the ecosphere. Japan is running a massive ecological deficit with the rest of the world. Moreover, since there are only about 1.5 ha of ecologically productive land and 0.5 ha of ecologically productive ocean per capita on Earth, Japanese material standards cannot be extended to the entire world population without depleting natural resource stocks. I conclude that the current level and form of Japanese resource consumption would be unsustainable if every country tried to do the same. Global society needs to consider alternative development paths that will reduce resource consumption by the inhabitants of high-income countries while enhancing their quality of life.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/10130
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]

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