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Friday, April 15, 2011
Earth Day Tokyo is needed more than ever
Special to The Japan Times
Each year, the globally recognized, nonsectarian Earth Day for promoting greater awareness of environmental issues falls on April 22, and this year, Earth Day Tokyo, which has been observed since 2001 with a festival, will take place the weekend of April 23-24 in Yoyogi Park. At that point it will have been more than six weeks since a magnitude-9.0 earthquake generated a tsunami that wiped out many of the country's northeastern coastal communities and set in motion the continuing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The natural disaster combined with a manmade disaster of catastrophic environmental impact means that this year's Earth Day Tokyo has suddenly become more relevant in ways that transcend the festival's usual agenda.
Three days after the March 11 megaquake the Earth Day Tokyo organizers held an emergency press conference to announce their own relief efforts for the stricken areas up north. Those efforts include the formation of a disaster-relief unit that will "continuously implement activities for recovery," coordination among member organizations of the Japan Earth Day network to provide up-to-the-minute information about the situation in the affected areas, and the collection of donations from Earth Day organizations in 190 countries to fund local assistance — thus providing a "worldwide platform" to help victims.
Kazami Shojo, the director of Earth Day Sendai, was on hand and stressed the need for "accurate information," something that was in short supply at the time the press conference was held on March 14, and said that his group was specifically working on communications issues.
According to press liaison person Kyohei Ogawa, "There is an action committee made up of more than 40 persons" that is currently working on something called "Earth Day Tokyo Tower," an ad hoc project of "support activities for the disaster. Some of the money (that is collected by the Earth Day network) may be spent for those activities."
Ogawa adds that the organizers will set up a special booth at the festival dedicated to disaster relief. It will likely solicit volunteers and provide information about the situation in the stricken areas, but such matters haven't been decided yet. Disaster relief is not, strictly speaking, a stated aspect of Earth Day's mission. As a movement its brief has more to do with influencing policies and social patterns so that environmental disasters both long-term and short-term can be avoided.
Conceived in the United States as a grass roots approach to spreading awareness about the dangers of air and water pollution at the local level, Earth Day has always been an educational endeavor. The idea started in the late 1960s on university campuses with teach-ins, but the first Earth Day festival in New York City in 1970 drew an estimated one million people to a parade up 5th Avenue, an event that was covered by the world media and is credited with launching the modern environmental movement based mainly on conservation and recycling.
Over the subsequent four decades, the Earth Day network eventually became a leading advocate for measures to combat global warming and promote renewable energy resources. In terms of nuclear energy, which is the most alarming environmental concern related to the March 11 disaster, conservationists have been split. Some consider nuclear power to be a clean form of energy since it doesn't directly produce carbon dioxide, while others believe its inherent toxicity makes it too dangerous to handle.
Since the development of nuclear energy has been Japanese government policy for many years, the controversy here tends to be muffled. However, at the press conference on March 14, the Earth Day Tokyo committee announced three "demands" it was making to the government of Japan, one of which is to "reduce dependency on nuclear energy." In addition, director Akio Kouchi read a joint declaration from Japan's Earth Day network calling for a halt to Chukoku Electric Power Co.'s plan to build the Kaminoseki nuclear reactor at Iwaijima in the Seto Inland Sea, saying that the plant would not only destroy the region's biodiversity, but also the traditional fishing culture of the people who depend on that biodiversity for their livelihoods. In fact, while Kouchi was reading the declaration, the governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture, where the reactor would be located, announced that he had ordered its construction suspended.
Plans for this year's Earth Day festivities in Tokyo, which organizers predict will attract some 140,000 people, remain fluid in light of the disaster, but in addition to fund-raising activities for the victims of the earthquake/tsunami, one of the themes of this year's festival is saving electricity, an issue that has become much more immediate with the loss of the Fukushima nuclear reactors and the probability of another hot and muggy summer in the city. Electricity for the entire festival this year, including the power to drive public address systems for concerts and lectures, will be generated using recycled cooking oil, or so-called biodiesel fuel. There will even be a car on display that was designed to run on hemp oil.
More than 400 nonprofit organizations and nongovernment organizations will be on hand manning booths, distributing literature and selling wares. The 27 restaurants participating in the Earth Day Kitchen will serve dishes containing ingredients that are locally grown, organic and free of genetically modified elements. The president of Earth Day Tokyo since its beginnings, author, naturalist and Japan Times contributor C.W. Nicol, will honor 2011 as the International Year of Forests by presiding over the Earth Day Forest, where he'll help demonstrate how healthy woodlands are maintained and as a bonus serve venison from wild deer harvested in Japan, some on the property of the Afan Woodland Trust that he founded and heads in Nagano Prefecture. Patrons are encouraged to bring their own dishware to cut down on waste, and those who do will receive a discount on all prepared food. The nonprofit recycling group A Seed Japan will provide utensils to those who come empty-handed, but you pay for it.
When Nicol became involved in Earth Day Tokyo he recommended that it be held in one place and presented as a festival, which it has been ever since.
There will also be music at the Yoyogi Park Amphiteater located behind NHK Hall, though at press time the performers had yet to be announced. A social network group called Earth Day With Michael, dedicated to the memory of Michael Jackson, promises to provide something in the way of entertainment. There will also be workshops in Japanese paper-making and various exhibitions, including one by Japan's only photojournalism magazine, Days Japan, featuring photographs related to issues having to do with the environment and poverty.
At least four nonprofit food resellers will be in the park selling fresh organic produce grown on farms in the Kanto region, some even within the Tokyo city limits. In many cases the farmers who actually grew the fruits and vegetables on offer will be counting the change. Other outlets for consumables include a Himalaya Bazaar featuring handmade clothing and accessories, and a Fair Trade Village occupied by various foundations dedicated to helping small producers in foreign countries get real value for their goods.
Since education remains the main purpose of Earth Day, there will be various stages set up throughout the festival grounds providing discussions and lectures on topics ranging from the effects of global warming on places like the South Pacific island country of Tuvalu, which is being inundated due to a rise in ocean levels, to suggestions for implementing the "3 Rs": reducing, reusing and recycling.
There are also bound to be a number of lectures on nuclear power in light of the Fukushima debacle, but, according to Ogawa, it depends on individual organizations, which are still being sorted out. "There are a number of groups planning to participate who carry out anti-nuclear activities," he says. "It's likely they will hand out literature at their booths."
Earth Day Tokyo 2011, Apr. 23-24, Yoyogi Park and other locations in the Shibuya-Harajuku area. www.earthday-tokyo.org