Japan Struggles to Meet Its CO2 Emissions Limits

Clothes are hung out to dry on window railings on a Japanese home. i

Most Japanese do not own clothes dryers. They dry their wash on clotheslines and railings outdoors. Martha Little, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Martha Little, NPR
Clothes are hung out to dry on window railings on a Japanese home.

Most Japanese do not own clothes dryers. They dry their wash on clotheslines and railings outdoors.

Martha Little, NPR
Moto Shibata's bath water is pumped into his washing machine via a simple hookup. i

Motoyuki Shibata's bath water is pumped into his washing machine via a simple hookup. He estimates that only 5 percent of Japanese use this method to wash their clothes. Martha Little, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Martha Little, NPR
Moto Shibata's bath water is pumped into his washing machine via a simple hookup.

Motoyuki Shibata's bath water is pumped into his washing machine via a simple hookup. He estimates that only 5 percent of Japanese use this method to wash their clothes.

Martha Little, NPR
Masako Konishi in a white kimono

Masako Konishi is an expert in Japanese tea ceremonies, and she is also a climate change officer for the World Wildlife Fund. Martha Little, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Martha Little, NPR

Americans generate twice as much carbon dioxide as the average Japanese, but Japan is still struggling to meet its limits for CO2 emissions.

Since 1990, Japanese household emissions have gone up nearly 40 percent. Some of Japan's environmental experts attribute that rise to increasing consumerism.

Japanese now own more household appliances — and more Japanese are driving cars. Still, the average Japanese lifestyle is greener than the average American's because of the personal efforts of many Japanese.

As a group, they recycle and ride bikes more than Americans.

Being Green at Home

One Japanese couple goes a bit further than most in conserving energy.

Motoyuki Shibata isn't a typical Japanese.

He and his wife, Hitomi, don't own a car. They have a solar panel on the roof. They collect rainwater in an old whiskey barrel to water the plants, and they don't use dish soap.

Shibata's biggest luxury is a wooden Japanese soaking tub, which he built himself. He sits in the tub after he has thoroughly scrubbed himself. After the soak, the bathwater is recycled — and reused for washing clothes. The process is facilitated by a simple hookup.

Shibata guesses that about 5 percent of Japanese use a pump to send water from their bathtubs into washing machines.

After the clothes are washed, Shibata does what most Japanese do: He dries his wash on an outdoor clothesline. Most Japanese don't own clothes dryers. Their clothing hangs on television-antennae-like racks that twirl around on their railings.

"You get to see lots of clothes hanging. ... Don't see that in America," Shibata says. "Space is very valuable here. If you can do without something, you do without it."

Minimalism Gives Way to Consumerism

That issue of space is what separates Japanese lifestyles from American. Japanese live in a small country. Americans do not. Japanese, in general, have lived in close quarters for centuries, while Americans have not.

Japanese traditions celebrate the minimal, the spare and the efficient. Their rituals have helped them save energy. For example, minimalism lives in haiku, the bonzai tree and the 600-year-old tea ceremony.

Masako Konishi admires the minimalism in the tea ceremony. Wearing a creamy white kimono, she goes through the ceremony's rituals. The room contains few things to admire — a tatami mat, a small painting or a single flower in a vase.

"In the tea ceremony room ... there is no enemy or opposition," Konishi says. "It really is about stripping, getting to the essence."

Konishi also works on climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, and she says she is sad that minimalism is giving way to consumerism.

Trading Carbon Credits

Japanese are loading up on appliances: big-screen televisions, air conditioners and microwave ovens. That's one reason Japan's carbon emissions are increasing. Adding to that is the fact that Japanese are driving more, especially outside the big cities.

Tetsuji Ida, a science reporter for Kyodo News, says personal energy use is growing rapidly — some of his friends have four cars. But personal use isn't the only culprit in Japan's rising CO2 emissions, he says.

"It's a very, very tiny part of national emissions," Ida says. "I think that we have the biggest part of the emissions coming from industries."

Ida says there the government offers few incentives to reduce emissions. Instead, companies in Japan and in European countries use a cap-and-trade system in which they buy and sell carbon credits.

Shame as Incentive

Japanese officials are counting on one incentive that Americans don't have, which involves shaming Japanese companies.

"Basically what happens is that we publicize their name, the company name," says Masa Ohara, the environmental policy director for the city of Tokyo. "And [we] tell publicly that they're not [reducing emissions]," Ohara says. "This works very well for the Japanese."

It works well for the Tokyo Metropolitan government, and it works the same way on a national level. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry oversees industry and also promotes it.

Kentaro Morita, an official with the ministry, says that corporations have set their own, voluntary targets for reducing carbon emissions.

"Once they've committed [to] some target, they will make their best effort to achieve the target without legal reinforcement," Morita says. "It's a very Japanese way. Japanese companies are very responsible for the society. They are very careful about what they are viewed by the citizens. ... It's Japanese culture."

Yet despite that culture, Japan's greenhouse gas emissions have increased 8 percent since the Kyoto Protocol was signed a decade ago.

'We Need New Ideas'

Konishi says the idea that Japanese companies will voluntarily reduce their emissions enough is absurd, even if they're bound by traditional Japanese honor.

"What's happening now is some challenge that we human beings [have] never experienced before," Konishi says. "We need new ideas now."

For example, the next Kyoto Protocol conference could be held in a tea ceremony room, she says.

"[What if we] got rid of all the prize and honors and swords and modern weapons?" Konishi says. "Prime ministers [from] all around the world can get in the tea ceremony room and really talk [about] what should be done. ... Might be a very good idea."

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