Happy Earth Day, Glendale! Congratulations to Mary Harris, GCC’s Woman of the Year, for her incredible Green Efforts. Best wishes on this year’s dumpster dive.
Although I promised more seaweed in my last blog (next time, really), it’s time for an Earth Day report: more on Kyoto’s environmental programs, the Miyako Ecology Center (MEC, Photo 1) and related news from Japan. As mentioned in earlier posts of Japan’s Innovative Recycling and It’s a Small COP, Kyoto continues its efforts as a world leader on climate change and sustainability.
Do You Kyoto?
The Kyoto City government began to develop its strategy for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 1997, the same year as the formation of the Kyoto Protocol. Its initial near-term goal was to reduce the city’s GHG emissions in 2010 by 10% relative to its 1990 emissions. It reached that goal in 2008 – two years early! More recently, it set an ultimate goal of ‘Carbon-Zero City’ and adopted a plan to become an ‘Environmental Model City’. With this model in mind, the slogan arose, ‘Do You Kyoto?’ which would be understood worldwide as, ‘Doing something good for the environment’ (see Photos 2-4).
The Mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, has been a strong proponent of this goal. The ‘Do You Kyoto’ program started under his first four-year term. He was re-elected to a second term earlier this year (February 2012). He is well known in the city for his inspiration, his attendance at public events, and his traditional kimono (during the campaign, his wife noted he enjoyed his bath, both morning and evening; see Photo 5).
Kyoto’s current climate plan** includes six visions for the city. These are:
- “An enjoyable walking city that gives priority to people and public transportation
- “Forest regeneration and giving important value to ‘culture of wood’ city
- “City of energy creation and community recycling
- “Environmentally-friendly lifestyle
- “Environmentally-friendly economic activity
- “Garbage reduction”
After 11 months in Kyoto without a car, I can attest to the success of the first vision. Kyoto is a very enjoyable city for pedestrians, and bicycle friendly. City programs offer maps with suggested routes for leisure trips on foot or by bike, with links to public transportation. Three private train companies, and a city subway and bus system, provide efficient, on-time transportation for longer trips (Photos 6-8).
Kyoto is surrounded by forested hills: 85% of the city is covered with trees. Older homes in the city – machiya – were built from wood with mud walls. Some of these homes are being rejuvenated and serve as models for environmentally friendly homes (see Photos 9 & 10). The forest ecosystem and its products serve as an educational focus at the Miyako Ecology Center (more below).
Many of the city’s other visions unite the personal and professional lives of the city’s residents. I earlier focused on the success of Kyoto’s garbage reduction and recycling program. The rest of this post will focus on the MEC (see Photo 11).
Miyako Ecology Center: 10th Anniversary Celebration on Earth Day
Miyako was an earlier name used for Kyoto when it was the capital of Japan. The Miyako Ecology Center (MEC) opened on Earth Day, 2002 (April 21) four years after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted – the international agreement that formally began action to reduce the potential damage of climate change. Much like the ‘Do You Kyoto?’ program, the MEC serves as an educational facility to expand Kyoto’s role as a model of sustainability and to stop global warming. Although the Kyoto Protocol has largely failed, the MEC has an ever-expanding role, locally and internationally. Elementary students from throughout Kyoto visit the center as part of their curriculum. Senior citizens come in bus tours from Osaka. When I applied to study here as part of my sabbatical in 2008, I was the first foreigner to make such a request. Since then, several international scholars have visited the center, and MEC staff travel abroad (Photo 12).
The director of the Miyako Ecology Center is Professor Hiroshi Takatsuki, of Ishikawa Prefectural University. His expertise is in waste management, and he is a prodigious cartoonist. His cartoons illustrate the many unsustainable problems of modern life; they are widely used throughout the center and in their outreach programs. His family name – Takatsuki – literally translates as ‘High Moon’, the name he uses on his cartoons (see Photos 13 & 14). You can enjoy more of High Moon’s cartoons at this MEC website.
The MEC features many interactive displays as part of its permanent exhibits. My daughters’ favorite is the Ecomushi (Eco-ladybugs) hidden throughout the building that point out useful tips on environmentally friendly living. Find the Ecomushi and earn a pin (Photos 15 & 16).
The center also provides space for community collaboration, activities, special exhibits, films, a small library and workshops (Photo 17). Moreover, ‘the entire building serves as an Eco-Exhibit’ (see two MEC pdf brochures, in English).
The building includes a large underground space, an ‘Earth Pit’ that acts as part of its temperature-control system. Underground temperatures remain moderate compared to the extremes that occur above ground in summer and winter. To make use of this temperature differential, air from the outside is vented underground and circulated through 70 meters (233’) of ducts before it enters the building proper. A display on the first floor shows the different temperatures and is recorded daily. On my visit December 16th, the outside air temperature was 8oC (46.4oF). After travelling through the duct system, the air had warmed to 16oC (60.8oF), an increase of 8oC (14.4oF)! An equivalent drop in temperature was measured last summer, when the outside air of 36oC (96.8oF) cooled to 28oC (82.4oF) after its journey through the ducts (see Photos 18-21).
Vines on the south side shade the building in summer (Photo 22). A 200 solar-panel array generates electricity. Between April 1st and December 16th, they generated 15,848 kWh of energy, equivalent to 3830 liters (1012 gallons) of gasoline (see Photos 23 & 24).
The building also has a rooftop garden that insulates the building, provides examples of ecosystems and gardening, and captures rainwater. The rainwater is used in the building’s toilets (see Photos 25 & 26).
The permanent exhibits utilize hands-on activities to demonstrate lessons in sustainability, Eco or Ekorogii in modern Japanese. Information about modern problems are presented alongside alternatives, historical or modern, to encourage better (or best) practices. The center infuses these exhibits with a sense that traditional homes and practices were in harmony with nature; the basic structure of Kyoto was laid down in 794 AD and it has been inhabited by the same people ever since.
The ‘Mud Wall’ display emphasizes the many benefits of this traditional form. Mud walls are biodegradable, hence good for the environment. They remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They also breathe, an important benefit in the humid Kyoto summer. Mud walls are healthier than synthetic materials, many of which release toxic volatile organic compounds. They are earthquake and fire resistant. Finally, mud walls can be easily repaired and materials reused (see Photos 27 & 28, and Photos 9 & 10, above).
The ‘Alternative Valuable Lifestyle’ exhibit includes the different rooms of a home. Typical water usage for each room is displayed with a graph using 500 ml bottles; they add up to the 478 bottles (239 L, or 52.6 gallons) per person per day in the earlier display (Photo 26, above). In descending order, these values are: toilet (67 L), bath (57.5 L), kitchen (53 L), laundry machine (38 L), and bathroom sink (23.5 L). Suggestions to reduce the impact of water use include the use of rainwater or other gray water (from bath) for toilets, or in the laundry, and low-flow faucets (see Photos 29 & 30).
The display also includes shelves filled with various household items and alternative choices: Which type of light bulb to use? Should you buy beer in a bottle or a can? Drink tea from a plastic bottle, can, or thermos? (CFL’s are much more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs, reusable glass bottles require less energy than aluminum cans, and making your own tea in a thermo saves money and reduces garbage, see Photos 31-33).
The importance of ‘shun’ – eating seasonally – is included here. The shun concept spans many aspects of life in Japan besides food; religion, art and other cultural events reflect the season. Shun incorporates the ‘locavore’ ideal; eating seasonal foods implies their local origins. Eating locally grown produce or locally caught fish reduces the energy and pollution costs that would otherwise be generated by longer distance transportation. Eating these local foods in season reduces costs of refrigeration, packaging, and storage. The main shun poster displays fruit, vegetables and fish arranged by season. A chest of drawers below this poster houses models of these examples, and asks ‘When is it in season?’ The answers are on the underside of the objects (Photo 34). One poster compares the cost of tomatoes in season (summer) vs. winter, and notes the nearly 10x greater cost in energy to produce tomatoes in a greenhouse (Photo 35).
I have submitted materials about sustainable fisheries to add to the shun section (currently with the MEC artist). Although eating fish in season may be more sustainable than at other times, regulation of the fishery, and the method of capture should be considered as well. Industrial net fishing often captures and kills many animals (known as bycatch) besides the targeted fish (e.g. dolphins caught in tuna nets, turtles caught in shrimp nets). By comparison, traditional pole and line fishers avoid most bycatch. Many Japanese fishers have a hereditary right to their local fishery, known as gyoken. Some fisheries biologists hypothesize that having a long-term stake in a fishery will ensure better managament. However, many fisheries in Japan are loosely regulated and have experienced diminishing harvests, despite gyoken. Finally, modern fish farms can increase the availability of salmon, tuna, yellowtail, etc. and make them available at all times of the year. Unfortunately, these farms require large amounts of wild-caught fish as food. They pollute the local environment, and magnify parasites and diseases that can infect the native, wild populations of these fish. Most of my recommendations for the exhibit were based on research available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
I also spoke with local fish dealers in developing these sustainable fishery materials. One dealer, Mr. Atsushi Tanaka-san, created a unique market for otherwise unwanted fish (i.e. bycatch). He tested these species with local chefs, who prepared the fish in various recipes. They now buy these fish from him, when in season. You can see a short TV clip about him and his company, Shokuichi, at the company website (see Photo 36).
‘Taking Time for Trees’ shows Kyoto and its surroundings from the forested mountains that surround the city to Osaka Bay (see Photos 37a-37d). The display is made of local wood with several text panels. It emphasizes three ecological cycles and their relationship to people: the water cycle, carbon cycle and the succession cycle of a managed forest. The main titles are positioned on the right end of the display near the urban center of Kyoto and Osaka Bay, but the overall display can be viewed from any direction. It asks two questions: ‘Why is it that we cut down trees?’ and, ‘Is there a connection between your life and the trees around you?’ (Photo 37a). Also at this end, rivers that began in the forest and passed through Kyoto empty into Osaka Bay, and water evaporates from the bay to create more rain (the water cycle).
Four text panels near the center of Kyoto (Photo 37b) describe relationships between people and water, people and wood (2 panels), and forests and ocean. One panel emphasizes the local taste of Kyoto’s high-quality water and the produce grown with that water: ‘Let’s enjoy our local food grown with local water’. Others mention the many uses of wood products in our homes (also stores CO2) and wood as fuel (releases CO2, carbon cycle). Water that began as rain in the mountains carries nutrients from the forest soil to the ocean, nutrients important for ocean life.
Left of Kyoto (Photo 37c), one panel mentions the importance of the Sato Yama (local forest/hills) to the daily life of people in Kyoto in the past. ‘What does your local forest mean to you today?’ Other panels refer to the forest nutrients carried in local rivers, and raindrops illustrate the return of water from the ocean to forests. The text panel in the upper left corner shows that trees are built of CO2 and water (carbon and water cycles), with energy from the sun. Thus, growing trees can alleviate climate change by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.
The far left end of the display depicts a managed forest in its several stages, from planting of seedlings, to thinning, trimming, and eventual harvest (Photo 37d). Visitors can turn a wheel to read more about each of these stages. The many uses of the forest are shown, including wild animals, hikers and a picnic. Additional panels emphasize that after millennia of people living in Kyoto, wild forests are nearly gone (forest with bear). Rather, people have managed local forests for centuries, sustainably.
There are many more exhibits at the Miyako Ecology Center, including the classic ‘hockey stick’ display of CO2 and temperature (Photos 38). The center was founded after the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to target global warming. Many of the centers main exhibits feature alternative energy choices, although only a few of these have been included here. The examples described thus far were chosen for their style and Kyoto ‘flavor’. A final example promotes a ‘less is more’ idea, with a simplified life style and traditional Kyoto home (Photo 39).
This winter the MEC hosted a special ‘Eco House Material Exhibit’ with ‘Let’s Build a Miniature House’ workshop. The centerpiece of the exhibit was the frame of a small wooden house (Photo 40). The house was built entirely out of wood. The pieces were joined together with angled cuts, slots, and tongue and groove fittings; no nails were used (Photos 41 & 42). Around the room, table displays included other examples of natural materials, including various types of local wood, cork board, plywood, mud (for mud walls) and fibers used in paper making (Photo 43). Other displays showed the use of wood scraps, including two stoves designed to burn wood pellets, a form of biomass energy (Photo 44).
Every few weeks, the house was taken apart and reassembled by kids. First, the kids received an introduction to the problem of climate change and CO2, and the forest cycle (Photo 45). Then the contractor described their building plans for the day. Each piece of wood was laid out and labeled beforehand (Photo 46). Kids were numbered (1-12) and given specific tasks. First, a rectangular grid was laid out, followed by the foundation and floor (Photos 47-49). The wall frame went up next. Periodically, the kids shook the building to test its strength (see Photos 50-53 and Video 1). Finally, they completed the roof supports (Photo 54 & 55). Afterward, the kids spent a few moments enjoying their work. Like our classes in America, the kids completed a written evaluation at the end of the workshop (Photo 56).
The wood home exhibit provided knowledge of the environment and environmentally friendly options. Wood is a natural and healthy material to use in homes, and it stores CO2. Moreover, the joints used are flexible in an earthquake, a useful property in Japan. The kids learned some of these values during the workshop, as well as knowledge of their environment, and how to work together – an enjoyable and educational afternoon at the Miyako Ecology Center (Photo 57)!
Final Note: The Tohoku Disaster and Japan’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Japan has been a world leader in energy efficiency and the capture of renewable energy sources (e.g. solar energy) to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Nuclear power accounts for one third of their overall power, however, and nuclear power presents its own set of environmental problems. Last year’s March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe has led to the near-total shutdown of nuclear power generation.
There are 54 nuclear reactors in Japan. On March 26, another plant shutdown leaving only one active reactor in the country. Most of these closures were regularly scheduled for tests and service, but none have been restarted due to political pressure. The final reactor is scheduled to be closed in May.
Last summer, the government set a goal to reduce energy consumption 15% from the previous year, to prevent power blackouts. While that goal has largely been achieved, Japan has needed to increase its use of fossil fuels to make up for the difference in power. Unfortunately, that includes an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
PS: As I finished my final proof read of this post, Reiko directed me to an article in today’s Japan Times (April 18, 2012). The governors of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures just issued a call to the national government to create a new agency to regulate the nuclear power industry, and to ultimately abolish nuclear power in Japan.
** ‘Kyoto city program of global warming countermeasure: For an environmentally-friendly city, economy and lifestyle (Digest)’ Kyoto City, 2011