The drive for industrialization, in part a result of Japan's lack of natural resources, creates increasing pollution. There is, however, little if any environmental awareness.
The fully extended militarized economy creates environmental problems such as deforestation, pollution, and neglect of soil and water conservation. Wartime bombing creates significant damage and environmental degradation in urban areas. In 1945, rice tainted by cadmium causes just one in a series of major outbreaks of industrial poisoning.
Destruction caused by nuclear and conventional bombing requires massive cleanup, and illness related to radiation continues to affect the population. Years of wartime production and the resultant neglect of water and soil conservation lead to flooding and further land degradation.
Industrial growth causes new problems. New technologies like oxygen blast furnaces for the steel industry produce better products but generate more pollution still. Booming construction soon leads to a shortage of old-growth forests and a rise in timber imports from countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. Such environmental costs are disregarded in the drive for economic growth.
Environmental problems emerge as the downside of rapid growth, most notoriously the Minamata Bay mercury poisoning. Lawsuits and public pressure lead to the birth of the Environmental Agency, laws establishing the "polluter pays" principle, and real emission standards. Many dirty industries once in Japan now invest in plants in Asia and Latin America, where regulation is more lax, labor cheaper.
Oil shocks force greater energy efficiency through better technologies and industrial restructuring linked to the rise of a knowledge economy. But the government also responds to slowing growth by promoting large-scale land development, such as roads, industrial zones, dams, and ports, which cause much environmental damage and consumption of resources such as timber.
By the 1980s environmental activism has peaked, although an Environmental Agency report finds that even tougher regulations on industry environmental problems are inadequate. Japan comes under fire internationally on forestry and whaling issues.
At the 1997 Kyoto Conference, Japan pledges to cut greenhouse gases to 1990 levels, despite a decade of rising carbon dioxide emissions. Power-sector liberalization leads to pressure to slash costs, and plants turn to cheap but dirty coal. Plans to cut emissions include 20 new nuclear power plants by 2010, but delays are announced after 1999 sees the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history.
Japan adopts the Kyoto Treaty, but doubts surface over the country's political will and regulatory ability to meet the targets to which it has committed its industrial sector. Controversy over whaling revives, which Japan continues to favor despite the opposition of most nations; even Japanese conservationists take a moderate position on the issue.
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