In 2010, I published a book on public health (Inside the Outbreaks), and as a follow-up, I concluded that the overarching threat to the world’s public health that we face in the coming decades is climate change/peak oil.
In researching that story, I got an Abe Fellowship for Journalists that allowed me to go to Japan to study renewable energy and specifically to visit several so-called Eco-Model Cities in Japan. I already had my plane reservations when the earthquake/tsunami hit. I nearly didn’t go, but things had calmed down by May 11, which is when I showed up.
I have just completed and published a short ebook as a result of the trip, called Japan’s Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World. It is a small book on a huge topic. In the post-Fukushima era, Japan is the “canary in the coal mine” for the rest of the world. Can Japan radically shift its energy policy, become greener, more self-sufficient, and avoid catastrophic impacts on the climate?
Japan is at a crucial tipping point and I discovered that I had been naive in thinking that the country was ready to make a massive change. The Japanese boast of their eco-services for eco-products in eco-cities and yet they rely primarily on imported fossil fuel and nuclear power, live in energy-wasteful homes, and import 60% of their food. That may be changing in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Maybe. But as I documented, Japan lags far behind Europe, the United States, and even (in some respects) China in terms of renewable energy efforts. And Japan is mired in bureaucracy, political in-fighting, indecision, puffery, public apathy, and cultural attitudes that make rapid change difficult.
Yet Japan is also one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with friendly, resilient people who can, when motivated, pull together to accomplish incredible things. As an island nation, Japan offers a microcosmic look at the problems facing the rest of the globe. And as Japan tips, so may the world.