Monday, December 5, 2016

Young Japanese: An Early Verdict on Climate Change

Is the verdict in, and have we, mankind, lost our own self-inflicted climate battle? Is this what Japanese millennials were saying in 2016 when, according to a government survey, only 75 percent expressed interest in climate change, whereas close to 90 percent of the same age group (18-29) had expressed interest just a few years earlier?[1] Their intuition may have been the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
Midori Aoyagi, a principal researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan, reports that the young people in her focus groups “always felt a kind of hopelessness” toward their daily lives, their jobs, and social issues.[2] She suggests the pessimism might be “a result of having grown up during a prolonged period of economic stagnation known as the lost decades,” but this would not account for the drop from 90% to 75% in just a few years.[3] Interviews with Japanese aged 22 to 26 elicited a similar attitude. “These young people cited the huge scale and timeline of the problem, a feeling of powerlessness, silence from the media and preoccupation with more important issues.”[4] I want to unpack this revealing piece of evidence.
The huge scale and silence of the media, combined with the political power of the extant energy sector, whose financial benefits are grounded in the status quo, suggests that nothing short of sustained effort aimed at transitioning to clean energy could possibly suffice to obviate the worst of climate change in the decades to come. Not sensing such effort, as per the silence of the media, the young people may have intuited that their time would be more usefully spent on other societal problems, which still had a chance of being solved. To be sure, unforeseen technological developments could at least in theory still redeem the species in spite of its self-destructive urge for instant gratification. Yet without a hint of promise from the species' unique tool-making ability, the young people could not but sense a slipping away of the window for solving the climate-change problem. Indeed, because they could live to see the worst of climate change as it unfolds, the sense of hopelessness makes sense. So it is particularly telling for the rest of us that more of them were moving on to tackle other, more solvable societal problems.

[1] Tatiana Schlossberg, “Japan Is Obsessed with Climate Change. Young People Don’t Get It,” The New York Times, December 5, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.