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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

V. The future of Japan

Besides the celebrated environmental destruction cases outlined in this work, many other pollution problems and issues contribute to the complexity of the situation in Japan, among them the widespread use of highly toxic agricultural chemicals for pest control, the use of chemical fertilizers that compromise the future viability of the food production system, and the resulting contaminants contained in agricultural products. Further, there is to be found an overdependence on highly questionable medicines in a seriously faulted medical delivery system, and the heavy use of food additives and preservatives in the mass-consumption-oriented food-processing industry. The ever-increasing number of atomic power plants contributes to the burden of radioactivity placed on the whole population, and intensified urbanization of the city centres and the attendant depopulation of rural areas increases the problems in both city and country, especially in terms of environmental contamination. The situation is so complicated that explication of cause-and-effect relationships becomes almost impossible. These combinations of environmental problems will inevitably work to erode the general health of the population, causing an overall deterioration in the standard of living and an increase in the number of unknown sicknesses. This is the price that will have to be paid for a nation that was, and still is, bent on modernization and industrialization as it reaches for an ever-higher gross national product.

At the present juncture in world history, environmental destruction has progressed extensively in both the northern and southern hemispheres and more and more people are becoming aware that development does not of necessity bring with it environmental health, and that a ravaged environment does not foster stable development. The experience of Japan in this regard should be a lesson for the rest of the developing world, and, if this lesson is learned, it will give a more positive meaning to the suffering of the Japanese pollution victims. In order to ensure a development pattern that will bring about genuine improvement in the quality of human life, it is essential that the abidingly negative experiences of the Japanese situation should become useful object lessons in what to avoid in respect to developmental processes.

Environmental destruction does not allow for recovery - it causes irreversible damage. This damage is absolute in that it cannot be redeemed through the payment of money, for loss of environmental viability results in a negation of the total universe of interactions attendant upon human health and life. It gives rise to an ever-expanding circle of victims and an ever-increasing loss of community infrastructure, with the related loss of mental and physical health. Because of this, any attempt to reverse the damage, once it has been done, will, in the final analysis, end in failure. An example of this is the fact that for thousands of the Minamata disease victims their illness is incurable. Therefore a careful examination of the situation in all of its historical ramifications is essential in order that these mistakes are not repeated elsewhere in the world.

Often budgets dedicated to environmental preservation are seen to be extremely small compared to the real costs of environmental damage. The Chisso Company budget for treatment of the methylated mercury effluents from the Minamata acetaldehyde production unit was only 1,500,000 yen (about 54,160). This is an exceedingly small amount of money compared with the vast sums that are having to be paid (several hundred million yen) in compensation to the victims of mercury poisoning. This lesson should be learned in other parts of the world, for it is likely that the same problem will rear its ugly head in other countries if the citizenry is not fully and meaningfully involved in development planning. If these concerns are neglected, then the same problems will expand to engulf the entire world.

Japan's multi-faceted problems with environmental destruction began with the advent of modernization, led by nascent militarism. Human rights were therefore ignored as militarization gained a hold and took over all aspects of civil life. After the Second World War a consumer-based mass-production economy was developed that had its ideational fountainhead in a military mode of social organization and production; this led to Japan's present degree of economic development. On the surface it looked as if these industrialization processes were taking place peacefully, but the environmental destruction will attest to the extent to which Japan's economic growth was based on massive aggression in all areas of life. The resistance of the people to these problems of a destroyed environment came to flower only very slowly; gradually, however, people became aware of the importance of concepts of human rights, bringing a slow but sure improvement in the situation. This would not have come about but for the enormous efforts made by the pollution victims in conjunction with the citizens' movements.

Japan's remilitarization and the crises of potential and actual nuclear war are issues of infinite importance at a time when the combined efforts of the citizens' movements are experiencing a loss of momentum. The terrible environmental destruction experienced by the Japanese and the creation of countless pollution victims should be avoided at all costs in other parts of the world. In order for this to happen it is essential to create a world without nuclear weapons, through genuine participation of the people in political processes in which the first principle is a genuine respect for, and nurture of, human rights. This is because, it goes without saying, war is the ultimate environmental destroyer.