Dispatches from Summer Study: Watch Japan and Expect a Great Deal

What’s happening in Japan? Quite a lot according to the 2012 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Tuesday night plenary speaker, Andrew DeWit, Professor in the School of Policy Studies at Rikkyo University. Professor DeWit described nothing less than a battle taking place upon the ruins of the Fukushima power plants, between sustainability and crushing debt; same-old same-old, and the new green economy.

DeWit described the “Hashimoto Phenomenon”. Hashimoto is an Osaka-based politician “with more votes than Michael Bloomberg has money,” and is using his influence on the side of green energy, against the old guard that includes the former owners of Tokyo Electric Power (the utility has been national­ized) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP, in an effort to maintain the status quo, is proposing a Yen 200-trillion, ten year public works project that will direct the nations financial resources to build roads and bridges and to the connected con­struction companies.

What’s new is what DeWit described as “Twitter-populism”. Average people have become enraged at the lies and lack of ac­countability shown by TEPCO in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 (known as the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake) that nearly destroyed four nuclear power plants and spread radiation tens of miles into the interior of Japan. The major­ity of the population in Japan wants every nuclear plant shut down and supports the growth of renewable energy. They are supported by strong incentives such as feed in tariffs (FIT) that support renewables. And the Japanese economy, heavily in debt, makes the same-old, same-old absolutely unsustainable. It’s not just the loss of the Fukushima power plants that has caused the debt. It has more to do with corruption in government and poli­cies that have heavily favored the leaders of industry and not the economy as a whole.

Whether Japan will go green over the next two years will be determined this summer and fall. Energy is a core issue in Japan politics and policy making and it is bringing about social and political changes at lightning speed.

Stay tuned. Japan may be the first of many nations to make the hard choices to move to a sustainable green economy or sink under the weight of inertia and vested interests.

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