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close this bookIndustrial Pollution in Japan (UNU, 1992, 187 pages)
close this folderConclusions
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentI. Basic human rights
View the documentII. Issues arising out of court struggles
View the documentIII. The role of science and technology
View the documentIV. The mass media
View the documentV. The future of Japan

III. The role of science and technology

Environmental science standards in Japan are still not very high. Environmental sciences seek to deal with pollution problems within the traditional, narrowly defined constructs of the natural and social sciences rather than by grasping the fact that pollution generation and environmental destruction are too complicated to fit within such constructs. It is next to impossible for scientists of the traditional persuasion to understand problems of environmental destruction in their totality without co-operative interaction with the victims of pollution, who have experienced the destruction first-hand within the context of a particular community. Many, if not most, problems generated from a loss of environmental viability are brought to public awareness only after the damage has become overwhelming. Since this is the case, research in the environmental sciences should begin with an explication of damage parameters and end with an attempt to reduce or prevent the damage. Many writers in the environmental field have come to the conclusion that new methodologies in the environmental sciences can only come into being within a context of study where meaningful interaction exists between the scientist-observer and the pollution disease victims as they interact with their support community. In order that this may come about, the environmental scientist must learn humility with respect to the reality of human interactions. In Japan, as in most other countries in the world, environmental scientists do not possess the humility needed to grasp the central realities of the phenomenon they seek to study.

In the same way, it is essential that environmental administrators, within government and without, pay much more careful attention to nature and society. It is an error of the gravest kind to believe that science and technology can provide all the answers to administrative problems and concerns. This is to say that the bureaucratization of science and technology works to maintain environmental policies at a very low level of effectiveness. When this tendency to seek a "technological fix," together with its attendant overemphasis on more complicated regulations, is allowed free rein, it simply serves to increase pollution-control costs without producing any meaningful benefits. When these kinds of regulations are invoked, the energy and vitality of citizens' movements are circumvented. The effects of pollution-prevention laws and regulations are very limited unless these same regulations are supported by the people themselves and the movements that they create. Environmental assessment is also subject to the same dangers as present assessment methods, which rely heavily upon the same kind of science and technology, based on a limited understanding of nature, and this works to the detriment of environmental sanity.

On the international level, Japan's pollution regulations and technological finesse are highly overrated, while the contributions made toward environmental viability by the activities of the citizens' movements enjoy almost no publicity. This is because the government's public information sector is able to circulate its own propaganda so as to generate the impression that the government is the author of all measures taken to protect the human environment. In this regard, the information provided by the Japanese government is highly technical without any significant references to historical and social factors.

Government information highlights only the successes but fails to indicate the failures or the situations in which industrial power was allowed to ride roughshod over environmental considerations. Government policies to control pollution, such as airborne sulphur dioxide (SO2) and the heavy-metal destruction of aquatic environments by factory effluents, have seen some measure of success because of the technical ease with which these poisons can be controlled. But in relation to the control of nitrous oxides (NOx), which are much less amenable to control through simple technological fixes, the government took the easy way out by relaxing control standards. As a result, air pollution by nitrous oxide has got much worse. Policies related to sewage treatment are still based on stubborn attempts to find answers in technological fixes; as such, they have not allowed adequate controls but instead have created an environmental backlash. Sewage systems should be constructed by private concerns and engineered on the local level as small-scale projects. But government plans call for huge centralized construction and processing systems, which have become so cumbersome that completion within a meaningful time-frame, not to mention useful dispersion, becomes impossible. The present level of technological expertise is not up to all challenges, as is seen in the substitution for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) of other more subtle chemicals, which are more difficult to detect within the hydrological cycle and therefore permeate much more easily into the natural environment. This situation has also been seen in the mixing of certain highly toxic liquid industrial wastes with mud as a means of disposal, to the extreme detriment of the environment. Ignoring these situations, the government makes exaggerated propaganda claims as to the effectiveness of its technology, and in the process shifts public attention away from the real problems. Ever since the government called the Ashio copper-mine problem one of hydrological control, the rulers of the nation have been using similar, sleight-of-hand methods to mislead the public. If pollution problems are understood within a historical perspective, these tricks of evasion can be shown up for what they are.

The people of Japan believe that problems of environmental destruction can be solved on the basis of a so-called almighty science and technology, without reference to the sensitivities of nature. The government administrators and industrial capitalists have used their propaganda to create an illusion whereby the people are led to believe that all the problems of the environment have been solved. However, the national problems of environmental destruction have taken on an international dimension with the rapid exportation of polluting technologies; the destruction is now shared with others far from Japan's shores. Policies dedicated to pollution control are not to be taken literally - they should be seen, rather, as window-dressing, an attempt to gloss over an ugly situation.