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Survival : Saving Energy and Environment

Resources depletion and environmental degradation, on a global scale, are already grave. Continuation of the present trend will threaten the survival of life and society in the decades ahead. The problem is, as often observed, related to the use of fossil fuels, atomic energy, and other resources, and the resulting pollution of air, land, and sea. The underlying cause, however, is human behavior. Advances in technology may provide a solution, but it will be long in coming. In the interim, the only feasible solution lies in gaining a clear perception of human behavior in society and economy, and developing an effective approach based on this understanding. One source of understanding is in the writings and observations of persons whose thoughts have endured over many decades or centuries. I would like to turn first to several of these, and then apply their insights to determining a means for survival.

1.Chomei's Hojoki
Kamo no Chomei (1155-1216) wrote Hojoki in the early 13th century, the era of The Tale of Heike. He had hoped to become a Shinto priest at Shimo-Gamo shrine, but his way was blocked by the head priest who wanted a much younger person,his own son,to occupy the position. Chomei was a brilliant string musician and waka poet, and for this reason the Sur-emperor Gotoba who wished to keep him around the imperial court offered a position at a less famed shrine. Chomei refused, and chose rather to lead a life of relative seclusion and meditation. Later, he wrote down his reflections on the life and times in the short volume called Hojoki.
In the time after the Hanshin earthquake in 1995, I recalled that Hojoki contained observations by Chomei on a similarly devastating earthquake and its effect on the Kyoto of his times. In reading his volume anew, I gained a deep respect for his perception and insight, and for the beauty and economy of his expression. He describes his life and times, extending over forty years, the ups and downs of society, the devastation of fire, typhoon, and famine, and the relocation of the capital to Fukuhara. In these and other events he saw the vanity of existence and behavior, like bubbles that form, are carried along, and disappear in a stream. He asked where we had come from, and where we were going. In his long seclusion, his perspective on time lengthened. He viewed events along an axis of time that was far longer than that of most others, and saw the vanity in human society and behavior.
To understand and deal with the problems of our times, we too must extend our axis of time, like Chome's, to forty years and beyond.

2. Underlying Cause of the Energy and Environment Problem
Today's main sources of energy can be broadly classified into three types-natural, including hydroelectric, solar, and biomass; fossil-fuel; and nuclear. Of these, only natural energy offers any practical prospect for long-term sustainability. Even here, however, grave problems exist. Hydroelectricity requires the construction of dams that disrupt or destroy rivers, mountains, and downstream lands. Petroleum and coal are forms of carbon in which solar energy has been fixed and concentrated over many millions of years. Thermonuclear power is based on an even older energy form, as the uranium it uses was created in solar systems billions of years ago. Any attempt to burn large proportions of these fuels over the course of a few years or decades will inevitably upset and may well destroy the balance of nature. Many of us know this, and yet we continue to increase our use of them. We must find a way out of this situation, and it cannot be done by moving backward. We cannot revert to a dependence on firewood. Appeals for saving energy, on the other hand, generally fall on deaf ears. Too few heed the call. The same is true with environmental pollution, and attempts to regulate liquid and gas emissions have involved heavy costs and difficulty in monitoring and enforcement.
It is, unfortunately, a part of human nature for people to keep doing something even when they know they should stop. Ultimately, this is the root cause of the energy and environmental problems. It is not everyone that can find a release from the attachment to material things, as Chomei did . The problem is not simply a shortage of petroleum or dangers of atomic power. The problem, and its solution, lie within the human being.

3.The Economics of Adam Smith
The essential principle in the economics of Adam Smith (1723-1790) is "laissez-faire". Economic efficiency can be maximized and the wealth of nations best increased when free from imposed regulations. This principle has been widely accepted and proven during the past two centuries. The principle has its origins in human nature. In "The Wealth of Nations" (1776), it is written that the human is lazy by nature, and does not work effectively in the absence of self interest and some prospect of its satisfaction. Conversely, the prospect of satisfying self-interest leads the exertion of maximum ability. Smith also stated that such an application of ability will ultimately contribute greatly to the public good, even where that is not by any measure the intended purpose of the individual. Smith noted, with some irony, that he had never seen a person do any real good for the public by actions intended not for his own interest but rather for the general benefit of people and society.
In short, Smith's proposal of the principle of laissez-faire is based on his perception of human behavior. If this perception actually applies to human nature, then it would be wise to search for a solution based on a clear perception of human nature and behavior. Unless we find a solution which permits each person to act from self-interested motives, we cannot solve the energy and environmental problem, nor any other social problem. Before considering a specific approach, however, I would like to consider the observations of others in this regard.

4.The Shingaku Ethics of Baigan Ishida
Kyoto was the cradle of "Shingaku", a code of practical ethics that in direct translation means"the school (or science) of the heart". It was originally formulated as a theory of moral education by Baigan Ishida (1685-1744) and further developed by his disciple Toan Teshima (1718-1786), around the same time that Adam Smith developed and published his treatise on "The Wealth of Nations". The name Shingaku was a happy choice, as it carries the connotation of a respect for learning and a strong resonance with the feeling and thought of the people. Shingaku became a pillar of public education throughout Edo era (1600?`1867). Young people nowadays would quickly tire of reading the strictures of Shingaku, in every text, urging them to be thrifty and thoughtful to everyone.
Shingaku was originally and essentially a philosophy for merchants. It told merchants to make profits, with the understanding this will work to the benefit of the people and society. It told the merchants that they should think not only about their own gain; rather, the transaction must benefit both parties. Both must gain. The important premise is that continuation in business is essential for any accumulation of substantial profit. If a business is to continue to make profits, then its transactions must lead to profit for its customers as well as itself.
Shingaku is simple and practical in concept. It does not attempt to impose ethical behavior by spiritual or moral strictures, but rather by the strictures of reality. In this way, Shingaku coincides closely with the observation of Adam Smith, to the effect that one's own self-interested actions can and do benefit others, and ultimately work to the benefit of society.

5.Prospects for a Technological Solution
Before progressing further, it is necessary to pause and consider whether the problems of energy and environment can be solved by technological advances, thus avoiding the need for a deeper solution based on the nature of human behavior.
As stated above, the forms of energy that least burden the environment are generally considered to be hydroelectric, solar, and biomass. Ultimately, all three derive from solar energy. The energy potential for generating hydroelectricity is created by the evaporation of water by solar energy, and that of biomass is the result of tree and plant growth, again powered by solar energy.
The rate of total energy consumption by mankind today is still much less than one ten-thousandth that of the solar energy received by the earth. It may therefore be concluded that using this proportion or even a slightly higher proportion of the solar energy reaching us will not cause any significant global warming. From a technological viewpoint, the question then becomes whether we can develop new technology, for the direct or indirect utilization of this solar energy, in sufficient quantity to replace all of the present consumption of fossil fuels and atomic power. The answer is yes, but certainly not within the next five to ten years. The most likely timeframe for the development and broad adoption of such technology is sometime around 2050, as estimated from currently known and prospective paths to more efficient photovoltaic cells, low-cost batteries, and other technologies. For the present, therefore, the realistic objective of technological development will be reducing and moderating emissions created in the consumption of fossil fuels, such as carbon dioxide and radioactive substances such as radon from coal, and the radioactive waste products of nuclear energy plants and facilities.
It is estimated that one-third of available petroleum has already been consumed. For many decades, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has been increasing by several percent a year. Current and prospective storage sites for radioactive waste will soon be full. If we continue to use fossil fuels and atomic power as we do now, the global ecology will be irrevocably damaged before we ever reach the 22nd century. It may well appear that, in these circumstances, reducing energy consumption would only be a useless exercise in staving off the inevitable. Why bother? The answer is that it can and must be established as a holding operation, until it becomes possible to achieve the technology and conversion to clean forms of natural energy. The situation may be compared to that of a patient of some serious disease. If he is told there is no hope of any cure, then maintaining his health will become the least of his least concerns; enjoying the little time left will take preceden t, even if it means shortening that time. If he knows, however, that a cure will soon be found, he will strive to maintain his strength, and hold on, until it becomes available.
The problem, for us, is conserving energy and moderating ecological damage for the next fifty years or so, until a technological solution finally becomes possible.

6.Observations from Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu, and from the Bible.
According to Smith and Baigan, the solution to problems should be based on the self-interest of the individual. Other sources express the same idea. The essential concept of both Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosophers, is that we should live a life that is not contrary to our own nature. Their central maxim is that "the Tao (the "way" which is the basic principle of the universe) does nothing and yet there is nothing undone." In its practical sense, it points to the ideal society of both Smith and Baigan, in which the abilities of the individual are fully utilized. It means, quite simply, that the true basis for the solution of any problem, of whatever form, lies in the determination of its fundamental cause; that it is at best wasteful to seek solutions without first identifying the core problem. I find the same teaching in Psalm 127-1 of the Bible, which states "Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." It may be presumptuous of me to interpret the Bible, as I am not a Christian, but I believe this passage means that the protection of the Lord is a natural and essential part of existence, and that any human effort must be in accord with this if it is to be effective, and will otherwise be in vain

7.The View of Keynes on Taxation
We recognize the problem before us, and we know that technological development, on its own, will not provide any substantial solution until it is too late. We have identified the underlying cause of the problem, in human behavior. The question now becomes, what is the right means of modifying this behavior. As a matter of survival in the next fifty years, our behavior must become one of thrift and moderation.
How can modern mankind be induced to practice this thrift and moderation? In the view of Adam Smith, the key is to make thrift and moderation a course that is in the direct interest of each and every individual. If it is, and the individual is aware of it, then it will rapidly come to characterize society as a whole.
To a certain degree, thrift always means profit to the individual and to the corporation. The question is, more specifically, whether or not the extent of the profit justifies the cost to that person or company. Unfortunately, in relation to environmental degradation, it usually does not. For the individual or the company, in the absence of other incentives,it is generally simpler and less costly, in terms of its own direct interest, to simply dispose of waste and emissions into the air and water, rather than to take the time and effort to reduce their quantity and dispose of them properly. Smith's principle of laissez-faire and Baigan's ethics of Shingaku then become counterproductive, in terms of the effect on society. One way to right the balance is to impose legal regulations. Legal regulations and penalties, however, inherently sets up a conflict between interests, in which the profit of one party is the loss of another. The advantage, in too many cases, will go to those who are most successful at finding loopholes or other means of evasion.
There is another way, requiring a minimum of effort, to lead everyone to practice thrift and moderation, in accordance with the observations of Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu. It is through some type of income control. Income control takes various forms. J. M. Keynes showed that the reduction of interest rates would be the only effective way to overcome the increasing gap between rich and poor caused by a completely laissez-faire policy and the economic stagnation which resulted from this gap. When interest rates were lowered, the result was a rapid increase in reinvestment rates, followed by a rapid rise in both employment and wages. In "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" (1936), Keynes writes that the gap between rich and poor should be accepted in a certain degree as a natural social phenomenon, but not in an excessive degree. He notes that a society in which people are born poor and never have any real chance during their lives will lose vitality and stagnate, and that an appropriate tax system can prevent such a situation. The essential need is to control the money flow at its crucial points.
The population activation ratio, or PAR, is sometimes used as an index of the percentage of the people in a nation who can use their abilities to their full potential. The PAR of countries like Japan and Germany is more than 90%. This, ultimately, is the determining factor of the status and development of a country in the world economy. In his discussion of taxes, Keynes shows that a rise in PAR can be accomplished in conjunction with an appropriate control by taxation.
The individual must be able to see the profit to be gained by thrift and moderation, as related in the Shingaku ethic. The role of the government must be to achieve an appropriate tax system for control of the proper balance in profits that will lead to this realization. Legal regulations and penalties should be only an auxiliary tool for this purpose, functioning best when they do not need to be invoked.

The phrase "Shunju no Hippou", which may be directly translated as "the logic of all seasons", is widely known and understood among the older generations in Japan, but 99% of today's college students have no idea what it means, even in the unlikely event that they have heard of it. One interpretation is that the right course of action can best be found by probing deeply into the reasons for the present position, to its true point of origin. It means, for example, that the misconduct or negligence of an employee can be traced to the daily attitude and behavior of his manager, and that it is in this way the responsibility of the manager to recognize and correct his shortcomings if the problem is to be really solved. This is the "Hippou", or logic, which is "Shunju", or constant and unchanging. As applied to the problem of energy and the environment, it means that it is a mistake to view the problem primarily as a result of insufficient petroleum reserves, limited sources of hydraulic power, excessive emissions and effluents, and other such factors. It is, rather, the human that must be viewed as the cause. It is, in other words, humankind that must perceive and correct its own behavior.
But spiritual and moral exhortations to the requisite modesty, no matter how pervasive, will ultimately be futile if as little as one percent of the population, chooses to ignore them and profits as a result. Marxism might have worked, if 100% of the people had really strived for the public interest and been satisfied with an equal sharing of the profits. The fact is, not surprisingly, that too many people wanted to take the profits for themselves.
If we can only solve the energy and environment problem through effective utilization of our human resources, which must inevitably involve the satisfaction of strong and innate human desires, how can it be done? On the one hand, we should concentrate our effort on development of new technologies that will permit the clean utilization of natural energy, to accelerate this development so that it can begin to provide an effective solution thirty years from now, rather than fifty or sixty. On the other, on a more basic and urgent level, we must develop and establish a system of taxation, in accord with the insights of Keynes, that will permit both parties or sides in transactions and other economic activities to profit by a moderation and self-control that will be conducive to energy conservation and ecology.
This conclusion may seem not to have warranted the initial reference to Chomei's "Hojoki" or to the other thinkers named in the course of the discussion. And yet, as Chomei stated at the end of his own his work, we ordinary people find it impossible to simply cast off our attachment to the present. In knowledge and intelligence, Shuri Handoku was the least of all of Buddha's disciples, and yet he attained enlightenment and grace through perseverance. We cannot hope to approach that level of perseverance and wisdom, but yet we must try, for the problems of energy and the environment, and their solution, will decide our future survival.


Kamo no Chomei. Hohjohki. Rev. Sadajiro Ichiko. 14th ed. Tokyo: Iwanami- bunko, 1994.
Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. Trans. Kazuo Ohkouchi. Tokyo: Chuohkohron-sha, 1976.
Philosophy of Ishida Baigan. Ed. Tsuguyoshi Furuta and Jun Imai. (Sekimon-shingaku kai) Tokyo: Pelican. 1979
Morita, Yoshio. Ishida Baigan and Adam Smith: save 10 cents for the society. Tokyo: Kawade-Shobo. 1994.
Ogawa, Tamaki. Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu. Great books in the world, vol.4. Tokyo: Chuokoron-sha. 1988, pp.120.
The Old Testament. the Psalms 127-1. Tokyo: Japan Bible Association. 1989, pp.971.
J.M.Keynes. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Trans. Yuichiro Shionoya. Vol.7 of The Collected Works of Keynes. Tokyo: Tokyo Keizai Shinpo-sha.
Takeuchi, Teruo. Shisho Gokyo (the Nine Chinese Classics). Tokyo: Toyo-Bunko vol.44. 1994.


Written by Shingu : November 25, 2006 03:51 PM

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