Learning to Lead on Climate

To readers of my blog, Facebook friends and assorted Twitterati,

The road signs on my journey to becoming a climate activist are marked by the following: two countries, two disasters, two fossils. And, above all else, my internationalist appreciation for the value of life; be it in our own neighborhoods, halfway around the world or in the future, has been my guiding light in encouraging others to join this fight.

An area near my apartment.

While global in spirit, this appreciation embraces living in Japan and in the city of Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture in particular. It’s a community where my family has started our lives together, and a haven where I can shed the workaday worries that so many of us collect during the week.

It embraces waking up in the morning to go running in the abundant nature that surrounds my home. Seeing animals such as raccoons, deer and whistling kites flit in and out of the verdant tapestry that make up the hills of Gamagori and Toyokawa has been a gift bestowed upon me; one I do not take for granted. 

It embraces being a firmly ensconced member of the Mikawa community, where I have come to know many of the local people here, and have come to know more about who they are, their day to day lives, personal aspirations as well as their love for their families and region.  

Japan is not a stopover. It is now my home. 

While the traces of Japan run deep through this awareness of connectedness, I also appreciate the soil I was born on: Australia. My parents, my brothers, my nephews, my friends still live on this vast island; a country that manifests itself in my imagination as a community rich in diversity, generosity and camaraderie. Some will accuse me of dual loyalties. Some believe that to love the country you live in, you almost have to cut your links with your country of origin. But I don’t think that was right and it never was right.

This was never truer than at the start of this year when I watched from abroad, aghast with horror, as the ravages of the bushfires ripped through this already sunburnt land. A red inferno, which smothered an area larger than the entire nation of Portugal, reaped a destructive harvest. 2,000 homes were reduced to ash. Nearly one billion animals and roughly 200 people were lost. My friends and family were breathing in air (or should I say toxic haze masquerading as air) that was categorized as being the world’s most hazardous. The vulnerability that welled up inside me made me want to sprout wings to fly back to help fight the fires in my former home, and to salve its wounds. 

Associated divisions were inflicted on the Australian society thanks to a government bogged down in a swamp of expedience, partisanship and cynicism, and drunk on mining lobby revenues. The then treasurer, and now prime minister, brought a lump of coal into the Australian parliament to lambast his political opposition for ‘being scared of coal’; itself a major contributor to the CO2 emissions creating the climate crisis. He then preceded to spin a dichotomy, whose premise was that economic prosperity and functionality was inseparable from coal mining. This was despite wind power being able to produce 40 percent more electricity than the global economy needs, the massive investments being made in solar technology in both India and China, California running 73% of its grid on solar energy during stages of 2018, and the mass closure of coal fired power plants US wide. Even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum has installed solar panels to save money! The markets to replace coal are available, so it was unsurprising that he was accordingly tagged as ‘a fossil in a baseball cap’; a truly deserved sobriquet.

The fires didn’t come out of nowhere. The severity of the 2019-2020 bushfire season was deemed consistent with hotter temperatures associated with climate change. The climate models predicting comparable disasters date back to the 1970’s have held true in their predictions of the Earth’s temperature increasing over time. No amount of disingenuous questioning of so-called ‘skeptics’, whose denial and duplicity has led to an inertia of inaction, will change this.

The so-called Doomsday Clock has recently been moved 100 seconds to midnight; the closest it’s ever been. The decision to do so was not based exclusively on nuclear proliferation alone as it was in the days of the Cold War. Climate change is a major contributor to this, and now has all of us playing the role of a frog in a saucepan of slowly heating water.  

Which brings me back to my current home.

Despite it being a massive emitter of carbon dioxide consisting of 30% of all global emissions according to the International Energy Agency, Japan continues to allow the construction of coal fired power plants within its own borders (although it has stated it plans on decommissioning the majority of its aging facilities by 2030).  

Despite Japan being the second largest producer of plastic waste, a product made up of 99% oil, coal and natural gas and whose incineration produces the cumulative CO2 output of 189 coal fired power plants, in the world after the United States, Japan continues to offer milquetoast policies such as a three yen surcharge on plastic bags at supermarkets and convenience stores. This despite the fact that 58% of all plastic waste in Japan is incinerated and 9 out of 10 of the world’s table salt brands now contain microplastics.

Photo by Lucien Wanda on Pexels.com

Despite the example I mentioned before regarding the Australian bush fires not being directly related to my current country of residence, Japan also continues to experience extreme weather events consistent with climate change. This is best represented in the form of Typhoon Hagibis: a disaster that was ‘upgraded’ to a category 5 storm within the space of 24 hours after initially being designated as a tropical storm. A disaster that left sections of the coastline I regularly run along dotted with 30-meter-wide walls of garbage; a vile concoction of disposable plastic waste, mannequin heads, footballs, golf clubs, and childrens’ big wheelers that stretched back from the water’s edge. A disaster which resulted in 91 beautiful souls no longer being with us.

Despite the world now gazing into a future devoid of 1 million species going extinct, an increase in poverty and pestilence, famine, floods and fires not only here but especially in the developing world and marginalized communities, Japan was also dubbed as a fossil when it was given the dubious honor of receiving the second ‘Fossil’ award at UN Climate Talks in Madrid thanks to it’s recalcitrant stance on coal fired power at the time.

Which brings me to the point of this open letter…. 

None of this can be waved away like a wizard waving their wand to cast a spell. However, I wonder if we as climate mitigation activists, environmentalists, citizens and people can perform a magic trick of our own? 

Science has yet to develop the technology to do so, but can we bring fossils back to life in the 21st century? 

Japan is about to change prime ministers. With a window opening to retreat from a course whose final destination is calamitous destruction and dystopia, we need to convince the new Japanese Prime Minister to forge a new path. A path which utilizes the awesome power of cheap, environmentally friendly and overwhelmingly popular renewable energy, and weans it off the opium of coal just as Germany has done. A path of reduced plastic consumption by adopting single use plastic bans just as New Zealand and Canada has done. A path that recognizes the role of consumption and agriculture in global emission targets and protects the oceans and forests as the vital carbon sinks just as the Paris Climate Accord has promised. In short, a path that forces this old fossil to change it’s ways.  

The author of this blog.

I implore those reading this either here or abroad, Japanese or foreign, male, female or non-binary to contact your members of parliament or local officials, to collect petition signatures, to post to your social media, to speak to your friends and to collaborate with environmentally minded civic society, non-governmental organizations and comrades both here in Japan and overseas. And I implore those in Australia to do likewise despite it not being an election year. A united, cosmopolitan and passionate coalition that transcends the abstractions of race, religion and borders is required to defeat the Four Horsemen of expediency, apathy, nihilism and greed.

Some may say that this is an issue for the citizens of those countries exclusively. That obnoxious outsiders should not inflict their unwanted moral scalding on sovereign nations. That we are merely islands of self-interest, and that the timeless notions of solidarity, community and empathy are naïve at best and counterproductive at worst.

My friends, I utterly reject that view. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We do not finish breakfast without being dependent on more than half the world. When we arise in the morning, we go into a bathroom where we reach for a sponge provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap made for us in France. The towel we dry ourselves with is made in Bangladesh. Then at the table we drink coffee that is provided from South America, tea from Sri Lanka or cocoa from West Africa. We are undeniably linked to each other and this is made real by the impact we have on each other regarding the climate crisis. Bear in mind that my story has mostly outlined the perils that are being experienced by Japan and Australia. It hasn’t raised increased storms in South East Asia, famine in Sub Saharan Africa and sea level rises in the low-lying Pacific Islands; places that statistically are more likely to contribute less, but suffer more from the severity of climate change’s after-effects. Places where I, and many of you reading this, have friends, family and loved ones.

The undeniability of our interconnectivity is as obvious as the threats that we face as a global family. The Fridays for Future protests last year show that those outside elected government yearn for the climate crisis to be tackled, yearn for a more equitable, just and harmonious society, yearn for the types of peaceful, happy and productive lives for their children and their children’s children; lives they were fortunate enough to have lived.

Yet, fossilized thinking from government leaders is stopping this. We must remember that the right to vote in countries like Belgium, Sweden, Germany and the UK, the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade, the fall of Soviet Communism and the realization of the Civil Rights movement in the US were not realized because of an enlightened establishment whose better angels were guiding them; not matter how much it is spun as such. Like those who powered the movements behind these historical revolutions, we need to unify. It is up to us to coalesce worldwide, and to act locally but think globally. To think that they will benevolently accede to the demands of the many is naive at best and counterproductive at worst. The fierce urgency of now compels us to. If history is a guide, I know we can do it!

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