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    Wow. Just, wow.

    Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai urged countries to take a leaf out of Japan’s book by practicing efficient environmental protection aimed at cutting down “mottainai” wastefulness.

    “I love the 3-Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle. I think that’s a wonderful call to the world. One of the reasons why some of the countries don’t want to support the Kyoto Protocol is exactly because they don’t want to reduce their over-consumptive life pattern. One way of reducing that over-consumption is by learning to reuse a lot of the resources that we use and just throw away,” Maathai told Yoshinori Kando, the Mainichi’s Director and Chief Editor of the Tokyo Head Office.

    “This concept is extremely useful. I must congratulate the Japanese people. I don’t know how they developed that in their culture.”

    Well, they mostly developed it because Japan is a row of volcanic rocks in the ocean with few resources and places to put junk. Before it was plugged into the modern economy of global trade, Japan’s only choices were to make do or to take over Korea to get access to what it needed. It’s been known to exercise both options.

    That’s not to say that the Japanese can’t be congratulated on making conservation into an ethical value. Japanese resourcefulness is one of the things that make many of us foreigners fall in love with the place. Not only in use of materials for building, but also in food, poetry, and decoration, the Japanese ability to combine a few choice elements to achieve what other cultures could only do with a truckload of stuff is inspiring.

    But let’s know when to reel it in here, too, okay? Japan’s illegal dumping problems are well-documented (though many of the most famous individual cases don’t seem to be on-line, occurring as they did before the Internet became a commonly-used news source). There’s a reason the illness that results from long-term, low-grade methyl mercury poisoning is named after a Japanese town (Minamata Disease).

    I’m not arguing that Japan is actually the world HQ for environmental evil. I’m only pointing out that Japan has had its problems with the unforeseeable consequences of chemical emissions, the very foreseeable consequences of state-funded construction orgies, and moral hazard–neither more nor less than other countries that industrialized over the last two centuries. As Ms. Maathai’s example illustrates, too many people take Japan’s famous love of nature at face value and assume it indicates more than it does.

    Oh, and I nearly forgot the kicker: word is, of course, that Japan has no coherent policy in place to implement the Kyoto Protocols. That doesn’t bother free-market types such as me, but you’d think it would give pause to people who get all rapturous about austere living.

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