Wednesday, August 21, 2002

A Blessed Classroom

In the "Voices" column of today's Asahi Shimbun newspaper, there was a letter to the editor from a 65 year old high school teacher asking that "air conditioners be installed in classrooms during the summer." According to her, "In a classroom where the temperature goes over 35 degrees (Centigrade), you perspire profusely and the perspiration literally gets into your eyes and runs down your cheek." The reason students and teachers subject themselves to this heat and go to school is that, since the 5-day school week was fully implemented, there aren't enough hours in the school year to finish the curriculum. Reading this, I was filled with mixed emotions.

That is to say, my three children have never had to go to summer school to catch up. It's not that their grades were particularly good, but, since they went to a high school that is "attached" to a university, there was no real need "to study for entrance exams." This, and the fact that the classrooms in my children's school were all air conditioned so that my daughter even says that "the air conditioner is on too high" and takes a sweater to school in the summer--all the facts came up which contrasted sharply with the situation in the letter.

High school textbooks nowadays clearly explain global warming and the need to preserve the environment, and there are undoubtedly questions on these subjects on the student exams. One of the main reasons for global warming is the excessive use of energy by the developed countries--This is surely something they must know. But, it's as if "knowing" and "doing" are completely separated. The relationship between what is learned at school and their actual lives is very weak. I've always suspected that to be the reason why teachers don't think a thing about turning up the air conditioning so high that one actually feels cold. I've found out, albeit a little belatedly, however, that this problem does not exist in public schools.

So we can say that the school that my children attended is very blessed. It's not easy, though, to determine whether or not being blessed materialistically like this is actually "a good thing" for children who are in the process of growing up and becoming adults. When I was in high school, we had heaters in our classrooms, but not air conditioning. Even so, I don't remember it being "too hot to study" during the summer session. And, since we didn't have convenience stores, fast food restaurants, or vending machines, we couldn't buy things, and we had almost no way of buying alcohol or cigarettes. We didn't get very much of an allowance, and we didn't have cell phones, so, naturally, there weren't any problems associated with them, including Internet date sites accessible with cell phones. In other words, while we may make a "society that is blessed with many things", at the same time, we create "complex problems" as well.

I touched earlier upon the fact that my children didn't have to take "entrance exams," but I wonder if this really is a "blessing." In the current economic environment, one can't get a job in a good company simply by having "graduated from a famous university." It's not enough for the university to be "famous", but, unless one is a graduate of Tokyo University, Waseda University or Keio University, it's difficult to get the job of your choice. Even if one's grades are high, it doesn't mean that you can get a job related to your major. So, we might say that they "aren't blessed." But, it also may be that using the time usually spent to instead play a sport, spend time with friends, or read develops a broader personality. That way, it may be that, when one becomes an adult, even if you're not guaranteed a spot on the road of the elite, one can choose a way of living that doesn't separate "what you know" from "what you do." As parents, that's what we hope for, but in the end, it's all up to the individual, so it's not easy to say what exactly it is that determines "how blessed" we are.

- MT

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Faith and Preservation of the Environment

The global climate is undergoing an unusual change. Those who have been watching the recent weather-related news undoubtedly must think so. Both the Asahi Shimbun and the Sankei Shimbun took up this problem in today's issues. Not only the tremendous flooding in Europe, but in China and Southeast Asia as well, there have been large-scale water-related disasters. On the other hand, warm sunny weather has continued in North America, and there are concerns about an increase in damage done by forest fires. It's only natural to think that, as with the environmental situation in Germany, damage from global warming is becoming increasingly more serious.

I spoke on global environmental issues at the Seicho-No-Ie National Conventions in May, and emphasized the fact that, unless we spread the teaching that all living things on this earth are "one in God" to more people, the situation will only grow to become even more serious, and we will not be able to get to the root of the problem. As one can see, however, the state of the world is such that there is no end to people looking at their peers in "humankind" and the need to destroy those they consider "axis of evil" much less look at "all living things on this earth" as being friends. This holds true not only for the United States. The Arabs and Israelis, those in India and Pakistan whose countries have a long history of conflict, pour their energy and intellect in war and military buildup and turn away from issues regarding the environment. There are other countries, too, where the people cry out that the economic and military power of their neighbors are "threats". There may, indeed, be that type of "threat", but, isn't the fact that the way humankind lives--particularly those of us in developed countries--is creating a "threat" to humankind a much more serious problem?

I received advice from someone recently saying that religion should not get involved with environmental issues, but should instead concern itself with how to explain and teach subjects originally associated with religion, that is "God" and "faith." This person says that people can use their own common sense about things pertaining to the environment, and they aren't something with which religions need bother. I don't understand this kind of thinking. If what something someone strongly believes in is "faith", then what that person believes will definitely be expressed within that person's life. "Believing but not doing anything about it" isn't believing, but only "knowing." It's not that those who believe that "God is love" don't love their children, parents and friends because they feel God does everything, but, according to the will of God, they "practice" giving love, not only to their family and friends, but to strangers as well.

For those of us living in developed countries, I believe that there is a need to recognize the fact that environmental issues have to do with our lifestyles and the wasteful way we use energy, and then look for ways to "practice" changes in our lifestyle to decrease the number of people who are, as a result, victims of this wasting. Those who know that their lifestyle gives way to victims in developing countries and don't do anything about it may "know" God who is love, but they cannot say that they "believe" in Him. That's why, those who believe should pay attention to even the most trivial of things and try to figure out what in their lives they can adjust to decrease the amount of energy wasted. Since people who don't believe in God are trying to do so recently, there is no reason why believers shouldn't.

Based on this, Seicho-No-Ie International Headquarters and its Main Temple in Japan acquired "ISO14001" certification, also called "Environmental ISO", in the summer of last year, the first in Japan's religious corporations to do so. Receiving this certification, however, is just the beginning. There are cases in which certification is revoked if the organization does not meet the very strict international criteria in annual judging and inspection. Since the beginning of this year, Seicho-No-Ie's different Missionary Areas throughout Japan have acquired this certification as well. It's impossible to continue this type of subtle, consistent effort on a whim. It becomes something with permanence only when a "reform of consciousness" occurs at the individual level. That is why a movement to preserve the environment based on faith is being sought now.

Of course, this should happen, not only at the corporate level, but we should try to change our own individual lifestyles as much as we possibly can. It's a bit embarrassing to talk about myself, but it's been four years since I installed a solar power generator on my house. And, in order to save forests from being destroyed to raise farm animals, it's been about 4-5 years since I've stopped eating beef and pork. My wife wrote somewhere about our using a rusty old oven toaster, and it's been about 15-16 years since we bought our rice cooker. Our washing machine, which we've repaired twice, goes back even further. We didn't turn on the air conditioning at home at all this year, and I only used the one in my office once. None of this would be possible without the cooperation and understanding of my wife and children.

I don't pretend to think that global warming will stop with this, but, if this kind of change in thinking occurs with more people, and that is reflected in our daily attitude and consumer actions, then it will definitely lead to a tremendous difference. Without this type of change at the "grassroots level", I don't think there will be a solution to the problems concerning the environment. What do you readers think?

- MT

Friday, August 16, 2002

Outside Market Value

In an entry made earlier this year, when I wrote about lavender sticks, I criticized the determining of economic statistics in the following way, "The mere fact that lavender grows is, in and of itself, a blessing. We should be grateful, not only to our fellow man, but also to insects and to the earth. If people living in the city derive more pleasure out of the decorations and ornaments created by manufacturing it (lavender) than going to the movies, the fact that this value is not reflected in business statistics means that there is something very wrong with our present-day economics." I'm expressing my dissatisfaction that the places where lavender grows do not include the personal ornaments and household items that are made in their economic statistics. In the course of explaining this, I went a little too far when I said, "There's something wrong with (the field of) economics today."

I've heard that, in the field of economics, they are currently trying very hard to give ecosystems a numeric value. For example, in the August 9th edition of Science, Robert Costanza, a professor of ecological economics at the University of Vermont, and his team revealed the results of their study on how converting the habitat of plants and animals into agricultural and commercial land not only destroys the environment, but also ends up being a financial loss. This is apparently the result of researching 300 development projects throughout the world.

This team calculated the dollar value of various benefits that the abundant natural environment gives us such as climate regulation, soil formation, nutrient cycling, and the harvest of wild species for food, fuel, fibers, and pharmaceuticals and called it "ecosystem services." They then compared this to the value of the crops harvested from the farmland and/or the lumber from the trees cut down from the forest. In so doing, the difference in cost of preserving large tracts of wild nature and converting it into farm or commercial land would be an overall benefit of "at least 100:1." In other words, the more development that takes place, the more humankind loses.

In 1997, Dr. Costanza and his team estimated the "annual value" of undeveloped wild lands as "$38 trillion." Based on this humankind suffers an annual "loss" of $250 billion. This figure includes any income generated from the development. We are inclined to look only at things that we can see, and so in past economics this "nearsightedness" led to concentrating, not on natural capital, but only on "market" tendencies. However, Dr. Costanza tells us that "we have found that much of what is important to us is outside market value." We must take better care of these things "outside market value."

"Outside market value" might sound complicated, but, put simply, it means "things money can't buy." For example, making lavender sticks yourself is an experience money cannot buy. You may be able to buy lavender sticks at a store somewhere, but making them with your own hands is something no one else can do. This is a tremendous difference from buying them at a store. In the same vein, there's a big difference between making your own firewood and buying it at a store. The same also applies to making your own lunch and buying it at a convenience store. I think there's a tremendously invaluable difference between "doing yourself" and "buying things."

Somehow or other, we think of these things as being "too much trouble" and paying for something someone else has made. That is throwing away a "very valuable something". Why do we do that? A lot has to do with the "time" involved. However, the time gained is often wasted or else spent on "work" to gain even more time. If we continue to do this, we'll end up just "spinning our wheels", something I'd definitely like to avoid in life.

- MT