[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Japan]: Metzler on Avenell, 'Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sat Jul 27 12:24:30 MDT 2019

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Sat, Jul 27, 2019 at 11:20 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Japan]: Metzler on Avenell, 'Transnational Japan
in the Global Environmental Movement'
To: <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>

Simon Andrew Avenell.  Transnational Japan in the Global
Environmental Movement.  Honolulu  University of Hawaii Press, 2017.
xi + 318 pp.  $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8248-6713-3.

Reviewed by Mark Metzler (University of Washington)
Published on H-Japan (July, 2019)
Commissioned by Martha Chaiklin

Simon Avenell has written an invigorating book, well and engagingly
written and often moving and inspiring. Its importance goes well
beyond Japan.

In 1962, Miyamoto Ken'ichi, one the many characters who appear
prominently here, brought the word _pollution_ (_kōgai_--literally,
public harm) into public debate, as he criticized the way that
despotic corporations exploited and polluted the "corporate castle
towns" over which they ruled (p. 43). A second protagonist in this
story is Ui Jun, a trained chemist who got his start in the movement
against methyl mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay. Already from this
point, as Avenell explains, Japan's environmental movement had a
distinctively human-centered or social-centered idea of environmental
rights, to fresh water, sunlight, clean air, and so on--"a
fundamental right with respect to the environment" (p. 101). This
emphasis on environmental justice developed out of specific local
antipollution struggles. Avenell shows also how these distinctive
Japanese visions contributed to some of the first international
declarations on the environment, in which Japanese representatives
played a conspicuous role. Among other things, this book is also a
major study of environmental diplomacy.

Avenell emphasizes Japan's socially oriented "environmental injustice
paradigm" and the special role of victim communities such as the
victims of Minamata disease or Yokkaichi asthma. This sense and
approach was far from North American "humans versus nature" or
"wilderness-centered" ideas of environmentalism. One of Avenell's
central themes is the leading role of the people he calls "rooted
cosmopolitans" in building transnational movements. He identifies
their orientation as anthropocentric, localistic, and grassroots
oriented. Local communities and local issues remained central, even
as activists built transnational connections and movements on the
basis of local movements.

In the early 1970s, at the peak of Japan's era of high-speed growth,
Japan emerged as the world example of extreme pollution (p. 1). It
was a "laboratory for pollution" in the words of Miyamoto Ken'ichi
(p. 3). This negative sense of Japan's unique role had similarities
to and connections with the sense of Japan's special place as the one
country that had experienced an atomic bombing. There were also close
connections between antinuclear activism and antipollution activism,
a theme that Avenell develops in some unexpected directions in
chapter 5, which investigates resistance to Japanese government plans
to dump radioactive waste in the Pacific Ocean.

The breaking into mass consciousness of the pollution problem came
simultaneously with a newly reinforced sense of the limited size and
resources of Planet Earth. In the discussions analyzed here, this
also took a distinctive form with an emphasis on the "human limits to
growth" (p. 84). This is one example of how the new stories
discovered by Avenell relate in unexpected ways to established themes
in modern Japanese history. For example, among the protagonists of
this story are Tsuru Shigeto and Ōkita Saburō (both of whom I had
studied for their key roles in planning Japan's high-speed growth
system). Here, the focus is on Tsuru's clear-sighted, early 1970s
critique of "GNP-ism," his anticipation of "sustainable development"
views, and his welfare-centered environmental vision. Tsuru pointed
out, for example, the perverse logic of conventional national income
accounting, wherein the costs of disposing of waste were accounted
not as a cost but rather as an expenditure that increases GNP and
hence as a positive addition to economic growth. This is only one of
countless _subtractions_ from human health and welfare that get
counted as additions to "growth."

Avenell also gives special attention to connections between Japanese
movements and other countries in Asia that in the 1970s were just
beginning their industrial revolutions. The "limits to growth" view
that gained force internationally in the early 1970s thus generated
the reaction that antigrowth pure and simple did not address their
needs and aspirations for industrial development (chapter 3 and
elsewhere). Connected to this was the question of pollution exports,
as Japanese companies in the 1970s developed new operations overseas.
Antipollution victories at home in many cases meant simply that
companies relocated the most heavily polluting industries to other
countries in Asia. Often this was done as part of a deliberate,
government-coordinated strategy (chapter 4). Avenell also explores
how this led to coordinated transnational opposition actions, for
example between Japanese and Thai activists.

Altogether, _Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental
Movement_ is a model of broad and careful research, lucid
presentation, and engaged public scholarship. Above all it is
_useful_, for learning, for teaching (for instance, as common reading
in an ecological history seminar), and for generating new ideas about
successful transnational citizens' movements.

Citation: Mark Metzler. Review of Avenell, Simon Andrew,
_Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement_. H-Japan,
H-Net Reviews. July, 2019.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52782

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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