State of the Sofa 2014

"Nuclear power is the bright future of energy". So it was. But where to go from here? Yesterday it was reported that Japan's current account deficit is at an all time high; mostly as a result of fuel imports, stagflation continues. No one want to live with the fear of another meltdown, so the reactors remain off-line, at the same time no-one wants to live with higher prices and stagnant wages. April 1st sees consumption tax rise by 3%. Domestic demand for goods and services will drop and Abe's 3 arrows may fall well short of the mark. 

 

Next to my house a construction company is building a large solar farm (large that is for Japan) for someone, somewhere. That's great, renewable energy etc. etc. But I have concerns that once the subsidies are wound back or the buy-up price drops, 10 years from now I will be living next door to a giant pile of rusting junk. Sustainable energy does not mean sustainable business.  Examples of unsustainable business models abound in Japan: rotting Pachinko palours, bubble-era businesses gone belly up, shutter towns of small stores who couldn't compete with big-retail: did they really even try? or was it subsidised failure? Why plan when you can simply fill out an application form? In a culture where the idea of gaman (hanging in there) is priviliged above gung-ho, or go-get, these situations should cause little surprise. Not everyone can be Tadashi Yanai, making his regional managers sweat through their suits as he shreds their paltry sales numbers in tele-conference and chastises everyone, the whole country that is; "Change or die, change or die!".

 

In many ways I admire Yanai; his lightning quick comprehension of business problems and equally fast solutions are impressive. His commitement to his brand is admirable and he has not only ridden out but raced ahead in tough economic times recently. On the other hand I grow tired and feel hopeless when I read such rhetoric as "our quest to promote globalization". He mentions "record profits" in the first paragraph and Grameen bank in the last. I am not anti-growth, growth is no bad thing. People everywhere ought to have the chance, power and freedom to buy nice things and enjoy comfortable lives. I would be enormously hypocritcial if I did not endorse it, like Warhol said, "wall-to-wall carpet in the streets and money for everyone." Why not?

 

However, having lived with three years of post-Fukushima malfeasance and smoke and mirrors, changes of Prime Minister, changes of government, delays and misinformation, I have become increasingly cynical. Seismologists had warned TEPCO and METI of the strong likelihood of a quake and tsunami on the eastern coast and the need, the NEED for bigger seawalls and defences for many years before 2011. The Fukushima reactors should have been decommissioned before then anyway. The evacuation was a mess. Chaotic. Each man for himself may be folklore all well and good when a tsunami is bearing down on you, but a hydrogen explosion from a reactor should have been met with evacuation contingencies for residents, pets and livestock. It wasn't.

 

When I now read statements about globalisation, statements espousing glowing business futures for global brands, record profits and sparkly projections of "growth" I feel like I'm living in the 20th century, living in the past. Is the what of energy more important than the how? Radiation leaks are terrifying. I looked outside on the 12th of March 2011 and exhaled, a little relieved to see the wind blowing from the north-west and not from the north-east. But are polluted aquifers, burning open-cuts, leaking gas-lines and oil spills any less of a worry? Oh sure, disaters can be responded to and contained, "we have the know-how, we have the technology", nature will modify the damage and recover, microbes will eat the oil, the radiation will be diluted to normal levels, yes, yes. But I am sick of these things happening in the first place when the real cause was poor decision making, irresponsibility and lack of accountable leadership.

 

When will this change? How will it change?

 

I sit here listening to the sound of bulldozers as they prepare the ground for the steel frames that will hold hundreds of photo-voltaic cells. The whole site should be finished by the end of March. Then it will go online and upsell electricity to the grid. But 10 years from now, 20, 50 100, what will this "renewable energy" site be doing? Will it change or will it die?