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Will Japan finally cut her timber?

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Issue date: 
July 26, 2010
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I chose an article from The Japan Times again, which was published back on 24 January 2010.  The article may be located here (or here).

Japan has always been a very rich country in terms of forest resources, but lacking in many others which industrialized nations have in bucketful’s (iron for example).  Despite the fact that 2/3 of Japan is covered in forests, it imports more than 80% of its timber needs.  After destroying and overharvesting much of her forests during World War II, Japan chose to replant trees all over the country, and left most of them untouched until now.

The article from The Japan Times goes into the debate of whether or not now is the prime time for Japan to harvest these trees.  Similar to what Chiras points out in our text, Japan’s forests are in dire need of thinning so that sunlight may increase the health of the ecosystem.  If Japan were to harvest, experts say, a selective harvest may be the best option.

However, the argument is not that simple.  The REDD program, adopted by the United Nations in 2008 enables countries with rich forest resources to be paid for NOT harvesting them from richer, more developed countries.  The effectiveness of the program, the article says, is still in question.  For example, over 20% of logging done in some parts of the world is for the black market and not being managed or controlled by their respective governments.  We saw examples of this in the movie, “Carbon Hunters” online, where Brazil is trying desperately to punish illegal logging.  From an ethical standpoint, I think, the REDD program falls short of the mark.  It basically allows richer countries to feel smug about polluting their own environments as long as they pay a little money elsewhere.  This paying off method does not remove these countries from ethical obligation; I think the REDD program is going about things the wrong way, but may be a step in the right direction, provided it produces effective results.

Japan has almost unlimited potential, experts say, for timber operations.  If pursued, Japan could easily transform their bounty of trees into a 3 trillion yen / year industry (100 yen = about 0.89).  Japan has a choice to make, as the author points out:  “We will see, and soon, if the Japanese government chooses the wise path toward a nationwide program of forest conservation and sustainable forestry”.  However, the Earth is suffering a massive conversion of land that otherwise would be natural into agriculture and industry use.  The author warns us, “We have already taken nearly half of the productive land to grow food, and now we are cutting and burning the remaining half”.   I think this statement is dead-on.  How much more land can we convert for human use before the Gaia strikes back?

On a side-note, I lived in Japan for roughly three years, and saw almost no signs of logging or other harvesting.  There are no clear cut scars, or paper mill pollution.  Even the education system lacked a forestry department at most of the Universities I visited, and students knew little or nothing about harvesting theory when I brought up the subject with them.  It seems, in my experience, that Japanese simply aren’t interested in harvesting their forests and I speculate will remain apathetic about this issue for some time to come.  The reason, I think, is due to Japan’s deep respect for the forest and their spiritual belief system, Shintoism, which believes that spirits inhabit certain inanimate objects, such as rocks and trees.  They will frequently put sacred ropes called “Shimenawa” to designated sacred trees, rocks or other objects.

Nevertheless, Japan continues to be a “wood dominated society”, as most of the buildings and shrines are constructed, even today, with wood.  However, 80% of that wood doesn’t come from Japanese soil.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut