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Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement$

Simon Avenell

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780824867133

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824867133.001.0001

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The Human Limits to Growth

The Human Limits to Growth

Japanese Activists at UNCHE

(p.81) Chapter 3 The Human Limits to Growth
Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement

Simon Avenell

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines Japanese activists’ involvement in the landmark United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. The chapter traces two narratives: first, the involvement of Ui Jun and industrial pollution disease sufferers in the various nongovernmental conferences run parallel to the main event and, second, the role of the economist Tsuru Shigeto in shaping debates about the limits to growth and the nature of development. The chapter argues that Japanese activists influenced the debate over the environment and development by suggesting that there are clear human health limits to economic growth which must not be violated. Japanese industrial pollution victims were living proof of this.

Keywords:   UNCHE, Ui Jun, Tsuru Shigeto, environment and development

In a famous speech to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in Switzerland in 1965, US ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson articulated an embryonic vision of globalism characterized by a “heightened sensitivity to the fragility of the life-support system of the planet” and a “sense of human solidarity in a world of increasing interdependence.”1 Invoking the imagery of a spacecraft, Stevenson observed how “we travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.”2 One year later the economist Kenneth Boulding penned his influential essay, “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth,” in which he argued passionately for a transition from the “cowboy economy,” based on a frontier mentality of rampant consumption, to the “spaceman economy” informed by prudence and respect for the limited resources of the planet.3 A combination of images, ideas, and events nurtured this perspective, none more so than the photo graphs of the Earth taken from the Lunar Orbiter satellites and Apollo missions throughout the 1960s.4 As Ursula Heise has argued, this early moment of global environmental sensitivity was the point when it became possible—for some, at least—to comprehend the whole planet “as one’s backyard.”5 For the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, this was the historic moment when “the Earth really became a planet.”6

Of course, romantic spaceship imagery and communitarian visions of “One Earth” were but one aspect of a global environmental movement marked by a good deal of pessimism, accusation, and disagreement. Much (p.82) of this discord revolved around the seeming clash between human activity, on the one hand, and the long-term well-being of the planetary environment, on the other. So-called environmental prophets of doom, for example, warned about the dire implications for the planet of population growth, over-reliance on technology, depletion of resources, and reckless economic growth.7 In his 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Ehrlich cautioned that there were too many people on the planet, that their numbers were increasing too quickly, and that the outcome would be environmental catastrophe, international conflict, starvation, death, and, ultimately, nuclear war.8 In the midst of the Cold War, the “bomb” of the book’s title adroitly blended fears about nuclear annihilation with concerns over the heaving millions of the Third World and the looming environmental crisis. Striking a different yet nonetheless similarly pessimistic chord was another biologist, Barry Commoner, who argued in his 1971 book The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology that the problem was neither population nor economic growth but the technology utilized by the rich nations in achieving development.9 Commoner singled out pesticides, herbicides, synthetic chemicals, fossil fuels, and nuclear power, and he pointed the finger accusingly at developed nations, which he blamed for the bulk of environmental degradation and resource depletion. The rich countries had a moral responsibility, he said, to compensate and support developing nations—many of which were former colonies—because only through development could population stasis be achieved. On this point, Commoner’s neo-Marxist, postcolonial environmental agenda contrasted starkly with the neo-Malthusian approach of those like Paul Ehrlich. Moreover, it resonated with other emancipatory environmentalisms emerging from the developing world and among antipollution campaigners like those from Japan.

A defining statement in this early debate on the environment and development appeared in 1972 with the release of The Limits to Growth, prepared by a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the think tank, the Club of Rome. The report outlined possible future scenarios based on the most sophisticated—if controversial—computer modeling techniques of the time. It suggested that, given current trends of exponential economic growth, there was a high likelihood of environmental and social crisis if not collapse in the near future. Advances in technology and productivity could slow or even reverse such trends, but the report’s authors warned that there were grave risks in nonchalantly relying on some future technological fix that may or may not appear: “Faith in technology (p.83) as the ultimate solution to all problems can … divert our attention from the most fundamental problem—the problem of growth in a finite system.”10

In this chapter I turn to the involvement and influence of Japanese activists and pollution victims in this early moment of environmental globalism, culminating in the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. An examination of UNCHE and the years leading up to it offers a fascinating insight into the ways Japanese activists became actors in the emergent “transnational political spaces” of the global environmental movement.11 In a classic instance of what Saskia Sassen characterizes as “local initiatives” becoming “part of a global network of activism without losing the focus on specific struggles,” Japanese pollution victims and activists took their stories of pollution and environmental injustice to a world audience at UNCHE, giving these struggles a human face and relevance for many people unfamiliar with the specificities of domestic political struggles in Japan.12 At the same time, these activists and victims were able to skillfully utilize transnational spaces to “boomerang” pressure back on the Japanese government, forcing officials such as EAJ director Ōishi Buichi to make astonishing admissions before a world audience.

Japanese activists, such as Tsuru Shigeto and Ui Jun, also emerged as quintessential rooted cosmopolitans who used their knowledge and experience from Japan to influence global debates about industrial pollution, economic development, and international inequity. Involvement in this global environmental upsurge also proved challenging for the Japanese participants. The conflicts among the developed and developing nations forced Japanese activists and victims to think seriously about the role of Japanese industry in environmental destruction abroad, especially in East Asia. If Japanese pollution was merely being “exported” in response to domestic opposition, was this really a solution?

In this chapter I concentrate on the involvement of Japanese activists in the emergent global debate on the environment during the 1960s and 1970s. Where did they stand and what did they advocate? As we have seen, the encounter with environmental injustices in Japan deeply influenced RCP members’ overseas activities. Although they expressed interest in a great many issues, ranging from waste disposal to nuclear power, ultimately it was environmental problems with clearly discernable human victims that RCP members studied most intensely and supported most vigorously. A combination of fury and obligation informed this agenda: fury (p.84) that pollution had victimized people in Japan and a sense of obligation to stop its spread elsewhere. Recall members’ relatively lukewarm reaction to the Ralph Nader Group’s warnings about the growth of nuclear power worldwide compared with their deeply emotional response to the plight of an obscure community of Native Americans in the Canadian wilderness. Degradation of the natural environment alone was not enough. For groups such as the RCP, socialized in the crucible of Japanese industrial pollution, the presence of human victims was also a critical ingredient for engagement.

Nowhere is this stance clearer than in Japanese groups’ interventions into the early debate over the environment and economic development. Whether as insiders or outsiders, the Japanese activists involved tended to view the problem through an anthropocentric lens of injustice and human rights. The issue for them was not so much the natural environment versus human activity but, rather, who or what controlled the natural environment and economic development and, moreover, who did and did not benefit. This perspective tended to position Japanese groups in the camp of individuals like Barry Commoner and advocates from developing nations who were also pursuing a rights-focused, emancipatory environmental agenda. Needless to say, it was a perspective that grew directly out of their experience with very localized environmental injustices in Japan.

I trace the development of this localistic Japanese perspective in two narratives. The first charts the involvement of Japanese pollution victims and their supporters at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. Scholarship to date has paid almost no attention to this involvement despite the fact that Japanese pollution victims and the country’s environmental problems became centerpieces of debate during this historic conference. Here I emphasize the Japanese delegation’s cogent human-centered interpretation of the “limits to growth” idea. Whereas most debate at UNCHE focused on the limited capacity of the natural environment to sustain humanity, the Japanese group stressed the human limits to growth. Japanese pollution victims offered their damaged bodies as living proof that unbridled economic development was having immediate human costs as grave as any long-term depletion of, or damage to, the environment. Industrial pollution in Japan, they argued, spoke to a different kind of limitation: not with respect to natural resources but with respect to balancing economic activity with concern for human health and dignity. That this argument came from the mouths of Japanese victims themselves afforded (p.85) it an urgency and authority that captured the attention of journalists, delegates, and activists alike at the conference.

The second narrative of the chapter traces the international activities of Tsuru Shigeto in the lead-up to UNCHE. While Japanese pollution victims presented to the world a rights- and justice-based critique of economic growth based on local experience, Tsuru set about articulating a bold reinterpretation of the idea of “development” itself. At influential gatherings in the early 1970s he argued that the environment-development dilemma could only be solved by expanding the concept of development, which had been defined too narrowly in terms of the GNP index. Instead Tsuru proposed a broader concept of development inclusive of human welfare concerns. This concept would take into account negative externalities such as pollution that were generally absent in GNP calculations. Tsuru’s attempt to redefine development was quite innovative, given that most debates at the time tended to gravitate around the definition of the environment. Of course, Tsuru’s thinking about development had deep roots, drawing extensively on his encounter with industrial pollution in Japan. He presented Japan as a quintessential example of the tragic environmental and human costs realized when human welfare was divorced from economic development. Reuniting the two, however, offered a way forward, because a model of development inclusive of human welfare would implicitly recognize the necessity of a habitable living environment while accepting certain necessary levels of economic growth. Tsuru seems to have believed that this expanded concept of development could simultaneously satisfy the growth demands of developing nations while eliminating the human costs of GNP economics in the rich countries. Although he did not use the term at the time, his thinking here in many ways anticipated the later concept of sustainable development, which would similarly attempt to chart a middle way between the environment and development.

UNCHE 1972: Communicating Japanese Environmental Injustice to the World

It was against the backdrop of worsening industrial pollution worldwide in the 1960s and early 1970s that political leaders and concerned citizens around the world began to pay attention to the environment in their backyards and beyond. Internationally, the most important event of this era was UNCHE, convened in Stockholm in 1972. No other event better encapsulated the potential and the complexities of global environmentalism in (p.86) a world fragmented into nation-states and divided by palpable differences in ideology, geography, resources, and stages of development. Barbara Ward and René Jules Dubos’s Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet, prepared especially for the conference, expressed the desire of organizers that the national delegations think about the environment as a global issue, transcending borders and the specific conditions of individual countries. But such lofty aspirations proved difficult to achieve in the face of violent disagreements between developed and developing nations, not to mention the ideological discords of the Cold War.

On the positive side, historian of the modern environmental movement John McCormick describes UNCHE as “the landmark event in the growth of international environmentalism.”13 UNCHE certainly broke ground in terms of UN history, being the organization’s first international conference on the environment and, in fact, its first international event devoted to a single issue.14 The event undoubtedly propelled the environment to an unprecedented level of global attention and concern. For two weeks beginning on June 5, 1972, one hundred and fourteen countries, nineteen intergovernmental agencies, and over four hundred nongovernmental organizations converged on the city of Stockholm to participate in the formal UN conference and in many other parallel symposia, rallies, and events. They were accompanied by an army of print and electronic media representatives from around the world, who dispatched detailed daily reports on debate both within and outside the conference. Thanks to extensive preconference preparations, such as the Founex conference discussed below, delegates were able to finalize and approve the Declaration on the Human Environment, with its list of twenty-six principles, and an action plan that outlined specific measures individual countries could voluntarily adopt.15 The original draft of the Declaration drew extensively on ideas from the Tokyo Declaration authored by Tsuru and others at a 1970 symposium in that city, especially its assertion that all people have “a fundamental right with respect to the environment.” Opposition from Switzerland and Austria, however, forced this clause to be changed in its final—arguably watered-down—version to all people have “the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.”16 Conference delegates also negotiated a number of international treaties on the environment relating to cultural and natural heritage, marine pollution, endangered species, and pollution from commercial shipping.

(p.87) Formal agreements aside, UNCHE was a conference riven with controversy, disagreement, and contradiction. Despite an agreement to stop contamination of the oceans, on the day UNCHE ended, the private ship Topaz, loaded with 7,600 drums of industrial waste from Eu rope, resumed dumping operations in the Atlantic Ocean as observers from Japan, Ireland, and elsewhere looked on.17 Cold War politics also greatly weakened the conference. Apart from Romania, all of the Soviet Bloc countries boycotted the conference in support of the German Demo cratic Republic (East Germany), excluded from participation because it was not a member of the United Nations.18 The Vietnam War also caused sparks after the Swedish prime minister—supported by NGOs and the Chinese delegation—condemned the United States, saying that “the immense destruction brought about by indiscriminate bombing, by large-scale use of bulldozers and herbicides is an outrage sometimes described as ecocide, which requires urgent international attention.”19 Controversy over the proposed ten-year moratorium on commercial whaling proved to be a thorn in the side of the official Japanese delegation, which refused to compromise despite almost total support for the ban among participating countries. The only consolation for the Japanese was that they were supported by the boycotting Soviet Union, itself still a commercial whaling nation. Even progressive Japanese observers such as Matsui Yayori, a feminist, environmentalist, and journalist with the left-leaning newspaper Asahi Shinbun found the uproar over whaling somewhat puzzling. Speaking to a Japanese audience of environmental activists after UNCHE, Matsui wondered if “whales” were “more important” than “yellow people” to Americans, given the ongoing “ecocide” under way in Indochina.20 Matsui’s observation was an interesting one indeed, inadvertently revealing the deeply anthropocentric perspective of Japanese environmentalism encapsulated in the stories of injustice Japanese victims would relate with such poignancy throughout UNCHE.

Most divisive in terms of the environmental debate, however, was the simmering “North-South” problem, which dominated debate both inside and outside the conference. Along with Indira Gandhi, Robert McNamara of the World Bank, and the Brazilian delegation, the People’s Republic of China emerged as the champion of the global South. In strongly ideological language the Chinese declared that the “major cause of environmental pollution” was “capitalism,” which had “developed into a state of imperialism, monopoly, colonialism and neocolonialism—seeking high profits, not concerned with the life or death of people, and discharging poisons at will.”21 (p.88) The Chinese asserted that “each country” had “the right to determine its own environment standards and policies in the light of its own conditions, and no country whatsoever should undermine the interests of the developing countries under the pretext of protecting the environment.”22

Events outside the formal conference proved to be just as provocative and controversial—not to mention haphazard. Invoking a famous Swedish culinary image, one observer likened the activity in and around Stockholm city to an “environmental smorgasbord,” while another suggested that “history may not find it clear which was the main event and which the sideshow.”23 As McCormick correctly observes, UNCHE represented “the beginning of a new and more insistent role for NGOs in the work of governments and intergovernmental organizations,” and it connected national NGOs transnationally as never before.24 Not until the Earth Summit (UNCED) in Rio in 1992, with its attention to global-scale environmental problems such as ozone depletion and climate change, would NGOs be involved in such a moment of heightened concern for and controversy over the global environment.

When the delegation of Japanese pollution victims and their advocates stepped off the airplane in Stockholm, they became part of a remarkably diverse array of unofficial and semiofficial events that, one way or another, addressed the burning question of the environment and economic growth. Closest in terms of affiliation to UNCHE was the Environmental Forum, financially supported by the Swedish government and approved by the UN conference secretariat as the official venue for nongovernmental organizations. As one attendee later wrote, the Environmental Forum involved “exhibitions, films and slide shows, panel discussions, lectures, and workshops on some fifty subjects. Books were sold, pamphlets distributed, and petitions signed. There was music and biodynamic food (including ‘poison free’ soft drinks sold in non-returnable bottles, which shows how difficult it is to live as one teaches).”25 Contrary to organizers hopes that the forum would be a compliant and unobtrusive space for congenial NGOs, the heated debates over the causes of environmental degradation at times even upstaged the main event. Notably, the Environmental Forum served as the venue for the famous Ehrlich-Commoner debate over whether it was population or technology driving global environmental destruction. While Barry Commoner criticized the affluent countries for irresponsible use of technology and neocolonialism, Paul Ehrlich invoked the ire of developing nations in his vocal assertion that population growth was one of the most significant contributors to environmental degradation.26

(p.89) More radical in conception and practice was the Dai Dong Conference, named after the Chinese notion of the whole world as a family. Familial imagery aside, however, Dai Dong served as a vocal and often militant mouthpiece for an emancipatory environmentalism advocating the rights of developing nations. Dai Dong included scientists and other specialists from Eu rope, the United States, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Ui Jun participated as the official delegate from Japan. In speeches and panel discussions he spoke passionately about the country’s severe pollution and the courageous struggles of victims. Ui also took part in a public dialogue with Barry Commoner that was widely reported in Japan and worldwide. Both activists agreed that environmental problems would not be solved without accompanying solutions to “poverty, discrimination, and war.” As Commoner argued, because environmental degradation was a “social problem,” it was not enough to treat it as a “biological issue” or through the lens of “nature conservation” alone. Ui could only agree, noting how his involvement with Minamata disease had forced him to expand his perspective from “natural science” to “social science.”27 Given its advocacy of environmental rights and justice, Dai Dong thus served as the perfect venue to showcase Japanese industrial pollution and the stories of its hapless victims. As a self-proclaimed “transnational peace effort” committed to global consciousness, transnational cooperation, and economic justice, Dai Dong participants addressed environmental degradation through the lens of wider social, political, economic, and cultural inequities worldwide—an emancipatory focus that resonated closely with the agenda of Ui and Japanese pollution victims. The United States came in for particular criticism for its “ecocidal” war in Indochina, while developed countries were lambasted for having “shortchanged” the Third World by monopolizing technology and plundering natural resources.28

Japanese activists’ involvement in the UNCHE process began in mid-1971 when Ui Jun and others in the ILP movement obtained a draft copy of the official Japanese national report for the conference prepared by bureaucrats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.29 What they discovered was a document largely devoid of detailed discussion about Japanese pollution, and instead filled with what they viewed as page after page of bureaucratic “trumpet blowing.”30 Ui was particularly irritated by the total absence of specific discussion about Minamata disease, Itai Itai disease, Yokkaichi asthma, and other infamous incidents of pollution in the country.31 Only in a very short section did the report mention how heavy metals such as cadmium and (p.90) methyl mercury had “caused health effects” in humans in some areas. The bulk of the report focused on the official responses and institutional and regulatory developments.32 As Ui pointed out, no scientific specialists or victims were consulted during the drafting process, resulting in a bland and abstract document that gave readers little sense of the advanced nature and horrific human consequences of pollution in Japan.33 The phrase “caused health effects,” for instance, obfuscated the reality that industrial pollution had killed, and was still killing, many innocent Japanese citizens.34 Nowhere in the report was there any sense that many Japanese people regretted their path to economic affluence, nor was there any indication that some of them were now reconsidering the benefits of so-called growth.35

The ILP responded immediately. On the suggestion of Ui, beginning in December 1971 the executive committee began to prepare its own independent “alternative” national report on Japan, which was to be circulated as widely as possible in Stockholm the following June. A working party constituting students and numerous ordinary citizens set about compiling data for case studies on some twenty instances of pollution in Japan. The original text was then translated into English by a group of seventeen Japanese volunteers and subsequently polished for publication by Anthony Carter, an American missionary involved in the movement.36 Volunteers from the Women’s League for Peace in the lay Buddhist organization Sōka Gakkai helped raise funds for the publication.37 The resulting pamphlet, Polluted Japan, proved to be a landmark English-language document on the tragedy of Japanese industrial pollution, to which even the Japanese government was forced to respond. On learning of the pamphlet, the government quickly supplemented the first version of its report with three new sections dealing more specifically with instances of air and water pollution.38 The high-circulation newspaper Asahi Shinbun also publicized the pamphlet’s release in late February 1972 in an article titled “No More Minamatas.”39

Throughout UNCHE, the ILP delegation distributed around 2,500 copies of the pamphlet to activists, NGOs, bureaucrats, journalists, and ordinary citizens from around the world.40 Inside Polluted Japan’s covers, readers discovered page after page of photo graphs, maps, sketches, tables, charts, and text documenting industrial pollution and horrific human injustice. The cover presented readers with a human hand shockingly deformed by mercury contamination, accentuated on subsequent pages by photos of fetal mercury poisoning victims, Yokkaichi asthma sufferers, PCB contamination victims, and casualties of cadmium poisoning. The images (p.91) are unnerving: a young Minamata sufferer in bed with a terribly distorted hand and glass-eyed stare, a woman’s back covered in literally hundreds of painful eruptions caused by PCB-contaminated rice bran oil, and the deflated body of an infant victim of cadmium poisoning whose barely recognizable limbs are warped into terrifying angles from multiple bone fractures. Here indeed was the chilling reality of the “health effects” so nonchalantly referred to in the government’s national report.

Polluted Japan presented readers with detailed studies on eighteen forms of pollution in Japan including Minamata disease, Itai Itai disease, Yokkaichi asthma, arsenic and PCB contamination, farming chemicals, automobile fumes, garbage, paper and pulp, oil, and radioactivity. No stone was left unturned.41 In his introductory essay, Ui repeated his mantra on Japanese pollution for an international audience: namely, that pollution should not be understood as an unexpected and unfortunate outcome of economic growth but as something intentional that facilitated Japanese economic development.

It is often said that “kōgai” is a side effect or distortion related to development. But this type of thinking comes from those who are primarily responsible for the generation of “kōgai.” The facts indicate that “kōgai” is not such a trifling matter as to simply be called a side effect or distortion of a rapidly developing economy. To simply say that it is a “distortion” is to indicate that if economic development were carried out rightly, or managed in such a way so that it would follow a natural course without any distortion, then the “kōgai” would not appear. But the fact is that “kōgai” is one of the most powerful and central factors in a rapidly developing economy. Japanese economists have pointed to a number of factors that have spelled success for Japan’s capitalist economy and the factors most stressed have been low wages and trade protectionism. But a third factor must be added and that is the neglect of the “kōgai” problem or permitting the economy to dirty its own clothes. The “kōgai” problem is an essential part of the structures of the capitalist economy of Japan.42

Ui and the ILP also organized a delegation of pollution victims and environmental advocates to travel to Stockholm and participate in the various parallel NGO conferences.43 Ui and the executive committee decided on victims of Minamata disease and Kanemi Rice Bran Oil contamination (p.92) because their symptoms, being externally visible, would have the greatest impact.44 Traveling from Minamata were thirty-six-year-old sufferer Hamamoto Tsuginori, wearing a cloth bib reading, “AN INDIVIDUAL CANNOT BE REPLACED,” and fetal mercury poisoning victim Hashimoto Shinobu, fifteen years old, accompanied by her mother, Fujie.45 Sasaki Shigemitsu and Kinoshita Tadayuki represented Kanemi Rice Bran Oil victims, while Shibushi Bay resident Tōgo Sōbei spoke for the anti–industrial development movement in Japan. Supporting these victims and activists—in what was the first trip abroad for most—were Ui Jun, Harada Masazumi, Itai Itai disease specialist Dr. Hagino Noboru, filmmaker Tsuchimoto Noriaki, and missionary Anthony Carter.46

The group was astounded by their reception in Stockholm. Matsui Yayori of the newspaper Asahi Shinbun described how “ordinary citizens are showing much more interest in Japan than was expected. TV news is constantly running stories about how Tokyo City was forced to pass traffic regulations to address the terrible photochemical smog in the city. Major newspapers are running stories on the Minamata and Kanemi incidents. Japanese pollution has become a ‘dining room’ topic for Swedish people.”47 On June 5, Ui and the ILP delegation addressed an audience of some hundred journalists at their hotel in central Stockholm. With the four victims seated beside him, Ui Jun announced that “these people’s bodies show the horrors of Japanese pollution.”48 The victims themselves sat with banners draped around their necks reading “only one life,” “MINAMATA,” and “KOGAI HANTAI.”49 Hamamoto Tsuginori told the reporters that he wanted to express his rage and let the world know the “double damage” inflicted on Japanese pollution victims by a government that took “sides with polluting corporations” and did “nothing until victims protested.” He spoke about the arduous life of Minamata disease sufferers and, with cane in hand, shuffled around the room to show the physical challenges of living with Minamata disease. Hashimoto Fujie spoke for her daughter Shinobu, terribly incapacitated by fetal mercury poisoning. Fujie said that she wanted to communicate the agony of a mother whose eldest daughter had been killed by Minamata disease and whose younger daughter (Shinobu) was afflicted with the fetal variety. She confessed her worry about Shinobu’s future and, in a poignant admission, said she wanted people to understand the agony of a mother who hoped her child would die before she did. Kanemi PCB victim Sasaki Shigemitsu set the room alight with flashbulbs when he removed his shirt to reveal a torso covered in excruciating skin eruptions. “Look at (p.93) my body,” he announced, “These may look like pimples but they are actually eruptions caused by PCBs.”50

Following the press conference the Dai Dong group, in cooperation with the People’s Forum, organized a “Japan Night” attended by the press and around five hundred people. During the evening filmmaker Tsuchimoto Noriaki screened his confronting documentary, Minamata: The Victims and Their World, which was rescreened by popular demand some days later. The newspaper Asahi Shinbun reported how the audience cheered loudly during scenes of Minamata victims and activists directly confronting executives of the Chisso Corporation.51 Ui acted as master of ceremonies for the evening, while Drs. Hagino and Harada presented slideshows, films, and talks on the nature and development of industrial pollution in Japan.52 On June 6, the first day of UNCHE, the ILP delegation led a street demonstration in front of the hotels of national delegates and then to the Japanese embassy. Ui, Hagino, and Harada also conducted slideshows and led a panel discussion at the Environmental Forum on heavy metal poisoning worldwide.53 On June 14, Dr. Lars Friberg, the renowned environmental medicine researcher, invited the ILP group to speak on the topic of Japanese industrial pollution at the Karolinska Institute, after which they were presented with the Karolinska Medal in recognition of their scientific research and a donation of 140,000 yen for the movement. Hagino Noboru’s presentation on Itai Itai disease at the institute was subsequently recognized as the moment when cadmium gained general scientific acceptance worldwide as the primary causal agent of the disease.54

Although they were unable to gain access to the main conference, the victims and activists of the ILP group were generally satisfied with their achievements. Hamamoto Tsuginori of Minamata later observed that “the Japanese government wasn’t happy we disabled people participated. It would have been nice to have said even something short at the main conference.” Nevertheless, Hamamoto concluded, “I’m really glad I came.”55 For Ui, the most surprising and worrying revelation was just how little the world knew about Japan’s pollution nightmare compared with the country’s economic miracle. The reaction of delegates from developing countries who had previously looked to Japan as a successful, non-Western role model of development was particularly startling. Ui could not forget the look of disbelief on the face of a young woman from Iran as she learned of Japan’s terrible pollution situation.56 Indeed, the Stockholm experience imbued the ILP group with a renewed commitment to communicate the lessons of Japanese (p.94) pollution and injustice to the world. Participants from Minamata and elsewhere were astounded to discover that their local experiences offered a sobering corroboration of arguments about the limits to economic growth. What made their message unique and all the more striking was the way Japanese pollution victims physically embodied their critique. As living evidence of the human limits to growth, their message had a visceral and emotional immediacy that captured the attention of activists, journalists, and conference delegates alike at UNCHE. This was a reaction the Japanese group had not anticipated, and it alerted them to the international significance of their very local experiences of physical suffering and injustice.

Tsuru Shigeto: The Quintessential Rooted Cosmopolitan

Pollution victims and their supporters like Ui Jun were not the only Japanese voices audible in this early 1970s upsurge of environmental concern worldwide. While the ILP and other groups were pursuing their agendas in the spaces of an emergent global civil society, others like Tsuru Shigeto were simultaneously utilizing their status and connections within academic, scientific, and political circles to articulate a Japanese perspective on environmental problems. In Tsuru’s case this perspective revolved around a critique of GNP and a fundamental redefinition of development as human welfare—in a sense, becoming the theoretical expression of victims’ emotional and embodied critique of environmental injustice.

The Limits to Growth neatly encapsulated the sentiment driving environmental concern in the years leading up to UNCHE—especially before the developing countries began to vociferously challenge what they saw as a debate unfairly skewed in favor of the rich. As the title of that book candidly pronounced, “growth”—in population and consumption—was the primary cause of environmental degradation and resource depletion and, given that it was likely to continue in an exponential way, the prospects for humanity were grim unless people somehow brought these processes under control. As the MIT team ominously concluded from the output of their “World Model” (what one skeptic later ridiculed as “The Computer That Printed Out W*O*L *F*”), “We can thus say with some confidence that, under the assumption of no major change in the present system, population and industrial growth will certainly stop within the next century at the latest.57 Although based on their own independent computer modeling, the MIT team’s conclusions dovetailed with other contemporary analyses of the long-term (p.95) consequences of global resource depletion by economists, biologists, and demographers.

As an internationally recognized economist and antipollution campaigner, Tsuru Shigeto joined this chorus of criticism against growth, although his position on “development” was more moderate than groups such as the MIT team. As noted at the outset, Tsuru was not opposed to development per se, just its narrow definition as an increase in GNP. This approach to development undoubtedly had to do with his longtime theoretical interest in developmental economics, but it also drew on his experiences in the progressive Tokyo administration of Governor Minobe Ryōkichi in the 1960s, where he helped craft policies for clean living environments and citizen participation—in other words, policies based on guaranteeing civic rights to enjoy and utilize a clean living environment (as opposed to policies focused solely on limiting human effects on the natural environment). Similarly, his desire to deal with environmental protection within the more important (for him) issue of human welfare drew on a Japanese environmental injustice paradigm constructed around pollution victims whose welfare had been willfully and ruthlessly ignored. Such experiences profoundly shaped Tsuru’s vocal international critique of the GNP index, which he saw as a numerical expression of environmental disruption caused by reckless growth insensitive to human welfare.

Tsuru Shigeto, it should be noted, was a thoroughly cosmopolitan individual years before he became an environmental activist, and his formative experiences in these earlier years provided the theoretical basis and human connections necessary for his involvement in international environmental issues in the 1970s and beyond. A remarkably intelligent and contemplative youth, Tsuru traced the roots of his environmental concern to the 1917 best seller Binbō Monogatari (Tales of poverty) by the Marxian economist Kawakami Hajime, which he read in middle school. Tsuru recalled being particularly enamored by an episode Kawakami recounted from his days as a university student. The young Kawakami had traveled to the Ashio copper mine, located around one hundred miles (160 kilo meters) north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture and site of one of Japan’s most infamous and destructive cases of industrial pollution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Kawakami explained how he had been overwhelmed with sympathy after hearing speeches from victims of pollution from the mine and, in a display of spontaneous altruism, donated some of the clothes he was wearing.58 Although Tsuru never went so far, he did develop a similar (p.96) commitment to the plight of marginalized pollution victims in his own environmental activism. Moreover, the Ashio copper mine pollution incident served as a crucial reference point for Tsuru a couple of decades later when he was attempting to rethink development as a process inclusive of human welfare concerns.

The tenor of the times in early twentieth century Japan also played a role—albeit inadvertently—in shaping Tsuru’s approach to environmental problems. Tsuru’s father, Nobuo, president of the Toho Gas Company, then the primary gas supplier in the Nagoya region of central Honshū Island, had been deeply disappointed with Japanese diplomats after the country’s momentous victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. His father felt that, despite the historic achievements of the Japanese armed forces, diplomats had let the country down by not securing a more generous postwar settlement from the Russians. When Tsuru was born in 1912 Nobuo determined that his son would become an effective foreign diplomat with all the necessary skills to pursue Japan’s national interest on an international stage. To this end he began preparations by arranging for private English-language lessons for the young Tsuru from his second year of middle school.59 Although Tsuru would never fulfill his father’s dreams and become a diplomat, years of English-language study positioned him well for a cosmopolitan life and career in the coming years.

In the late 1920s Tsuru entered the Number 8 Higher School in Nagoya (the predecessor of present-day Nagoya University), where he continued his language study in the English Speaking Society and, significantly, threw himself into a program of leftist activism on campus that would have life-altering consequences. Tsuru became involved in a reading group called Shaken (social research), which included both faculty and student members. Although a largely moderate association, the group had been banned in 1927 by order of the Japanese Ministry of Education as part of the state’s more general crackdown on leftist elements nationwide. The group continued to operate in secret, however, reading works such as the German-language version of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The Communist Manifesto and becoming involved in various democratization movements on campus.60 Among these, in 1929 Tsuru and his fellow members established a campus division of the Japan branch of the Anti-Imperialist League and began publishing a monthly newsletter called Iskra, after the Russian Social Demo cratic Workers’ Party bulletin of the same name.61 (p.97)

The Human Limits to GrowthJapanese Activists at UNCHE

Tsuru Shigeto, 1972

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

The “inevitable”—as Tsuru later described it—came in early December 1930, when Tsuru and thirty-five other students were arrested for organizing speaking events critical of the Japanese army’s incursions into China as well as for pasting political pamphlets outside a number of Nagoya factories on the request of the National Council of Japanese Labor Unions.62 Tsuru spent the next three months in police detention and on his release learned that he had been expelled from the Number 8 Higher School. Aware of the peril his son faced as an identified “thought criminal,” Tsuru’s father suggested that he go overseas to continue his studies. Although most Japanese students traveled to Germany at the time, Tsuru’s father felt that the Marxist influence was too strong there, with the Social Democrats as the largest political party and a powerful Socialist Party. If Tsuru was agreeable, his father promised to pay for travel and two years of study and living expenses in the United States. Somewhat surprised but not resistant, Tsuru boarded the Japanese mail steamboat Taiyōmaru in August 1931, bound for the United States.63 After an initial period at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Tsuru transferred to Harvard University, where he graduated with honors in 1935 and then went on to complete doctoral studies in economics (p.98) in 1940. His advisers and colleagues at Harvard included some of the most influential figures in twentieth-century economics such as Joseph Schumpeter, Wassily Leontief, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Paul Samuelson. Among non-economists, Tsuru became close friends with the Marxian historian of Japan and Canadian diplomat E. H. Norman—a friendship that ultimately resulted in an order to testify about Norman before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the late 1950s and accusations from the left that he had somehow contributed to Norman’s untimely suicide.64

With the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941, Tsuru was repatriated to Japan with other Japanese living in the United States, and throughout the war years he served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and very briefly in the army. At war’s end, Tsuru was invited to join the Strategic Bombing Survey of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) on the request of two of its members, John Kenneth Galbraith and Paul Baran, who were close associates from his days at Harvard.65 In 1946 Tsuru was again seconded to SCAP from his post in MOFA by order of then Foreign Minister Yoshida Shigeru, this time serving in the influential Economic and Scientific Section (ESS). In an interesting twist of circumstances, while at the ESS Tsuru was charged with drafting and translating a letter from General Douglas MacArthur to Yoshida Shigeru (by then, prime minister) ordering that the Japanese government immediately adopt measures to bring rampant inflation under control.66 On his return to the Japanese public service in 1947, Yoshida appointed Tsuru to the Keizai Antei Honbu (Economic Stabilization Headquarters, later the Economic Planning Agency, EPA, or Keizai Kikakuchō) where he was involved in the preparation of the first postwar economic white paper.67

By the age of thirty-five, then, Tsuru had over a decade of experience living and studying abroad, where he had associated with some of the most influential economists of the time. In two short years after the war he had served at the highest levels of the Japanese bureaucracy and within the powerful economic sections of SCAP. This experience as an insider at the most elite levels of politics and the academy served Tsuru well when he embarked on environmental activism beginning in the 1960s. It also fed into his project to rethink the notion of development. Most directly, while a student in the United States in the 1930s, Tsuru had developed an interest in development economics and conducted some research into the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Remarkably different from the Ashio copper mine region in Japan, which had been terribly polluted by mining operations, the Tennessee (p.99) Valley project appeared to Tsuru to have effectively integrated development and the environment, because the region had an upstream copper mine similar to Ashio but without the pollution. Tsuru was intrigued by the contrast and became convinced that the TVA model of nonpollutive (i.e., human-welfare-sensitive) development could be imported into Japan. In October 1946 Tsuru organized the TVA Research Colloquium, which met monthly to consider how the TVA principles might be adapted for regional development projects in Japan. Members came from across the bureaucratic and industrial spectrum and included many technical specialists involved in transport, heavy industry, and electrical utilities. Among prominent individuals in the colloquium was Okita Saburō, an influential economist, government official, and, later, member of the Club of Rome who, many decades hence, would play a key role in making the notion of “sustainable development” environmental common sense worldwide.68

Given Japan’s subsequent torrent of regional development throughout the 1960s, and the resulting pollution and environmental destruction, Tsuru’s TVA Colloquium can be viewed only as a resounding failure with respect to its direct influence on government policy and industrial development. Nevertheless, for Tsuru, Okita, and other specialists in the group, it was a transformative experience, representing their first opportunity to think about development in post-defeat Japan from a comparative perspective. It was through the TVA Colloquium that Tsuru was able to conduct a field survey of the Ashio copper mine region in 1953 as a member of the governmental consultative committee, the Shigen Chōsakai (Natural Resources Survey Committee). The environmental damage and human misery Tsuru witnessed was shocking and convinced him of the need for thorough economic planning, attentive to both the profitability of individual economic actors and the wider macroeconomy as well as to the welfare of ordinary citizens and their living environment.69 Although the colloquium ended in 1949, it served for Tsuru as a prototype for the Research Committee on Pollution with its focus on field research, interdisciplinary exchange, and cross-national consideration of local development.70

Tsuru began to tackle environmental issues in earnest from the early years of the 1960s while a faculty member and later president of Hitotsubashi University in eastern Tokyo. As we saw in chapter 1, in 1963 Tsuru and others established the RCP in response to the unfolding domestic environmental crisis. After resisting insistent pleas to run for the Tokyo City governorship, for two years from 1968 Tsuru served in a consultative capacity (p.100) on the Tokyo Problems Research Committee, which advised the progressive governor, Minobe Ryōkichi (who ran for office when Tsuru declined), on issues relating to housing, land, new town development, redevelopment, urban transport, and public finance. Tsuru used the opportunity to advance his embryonic environmental vision, most notably in the committee’s influential 1969 policy proposal Tōkyō e no Teigen (Recommendations to Tokyo), which sketched out not only an environmentally friendly but also a democratically organized vision of urban life in the capital, in which local residents would have a large role in shaping their living environments.71

In the early 1970s Tsuru became more and more involved in the global environmental movement as an opinion leader and as an organizer of influential international conferences. These were the years when his earlier studies and contacts overseas came to fruition, providing him with opportunities to build alliances of like-minded scientists and to communicate his critique of GNP and vision of development to an international audience. In terms of transnational alliances, Tsuru’s first standout achievement was the International Symposium on Environmental Disruption held in Tokyo in 1970, which he organized with the environmental economist Allen Kneese of Resources for the Future in Washington, DC. Formally named “Environmental Disruption in the Modern World: A Field of Action for the Social Scientists,” the Tokyo symposium was a landmark event in the formation of a transnational movement of natural and social scientists committed to the central tenets of environmentalism. For assistance Tsuru drew on his connections in industry and government, arranging financial and logistical support from Tokyo City, the Osaka and Mie prefectural governments, the Japanese Ministry of Education, and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).72 Symposium participants read like a who’s who of international environmental specialists at the time. On the Japan side were members of the RCP, Tokyo and Osaka City officials, and representatives from the MHW. Overseas participants included Allen Kneese, who proposed a theory of market systems sensitive to common property resources; Harvard economist Wassily Leontief, who advocated national accounting reflective of negative externalities (like pollution); Wellesley College economist Marshall Goldman, who described widespread pollution in the Soviet Union; Michigan University legal scholar Joseph Sax, who championed environmental litigation; and the German American economist and founder of ecological economics Karl William Kapp, who provided the framing opening remarks for the symposium. As Kapp observed, “I consider it as particularly appropriate (p.101) that this first international symposium on the disruption and possible destruction of man’s environment takes place in a country that had to endure the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Moreover, Japan today has one of the most rapid rates of industrialization and of economic development with all its disruptive consequences on the environment.”73 Among the many issues debated at the symposium, participants paid great attention to the problem of incorporating the costs of pollution into calculations of GNP and to methods for making polluters pay for environmental degradation caused by industrial processes—both vitally important issues for Tsuru.

Along with the presentations and debates, participants in the conference also signed the Tokyo Declaration, which famously asserted that all people and future generations have “a fundamental right with respect to the environment”—a Japanese-inspired idea of environmental rights that would carry over to the UN conference in Stockholm two years later. Tsuru and other RCP members’ notions of environmental rights (to fresh water, sunlight, clean air, and the like) drew heavily on their commitment to environmental justice, which, as explained, emerged from their earlier struggles against domestic industrial pollution. The Tokyo Declaration closely mirrored their anthropocentric concept of environmental rights by stressing the entitlement of humans to certain minimum standards in their living environments as opposed to what might be called the intrinsic rights of nature.

RCP members underscored this emphasis on the environmental rights of humans by taking their foreign guests on a “pollution tour” of the country. In Tokyo, for instance, they visited the city’s polluted bay, a smelly trash processing facility, a public housing project built on reclaimed land, and a sewerage treatment station.74 Thereafter the group traveled to Osaka, Yokkaichi, and Minamata, where they saw—and breathed—pollution first-hand.75 All these visits were designed to leave the foreign participants with an indelible appreciation for the human costs of industrial development, which Tsuru and colleagues viewed as the key issue in the environmental debate. Their intentions did not go unanswered: deeply moved by the experience, the legal scholar Joseph Sax obtained a copy of the distressing documentary Minamata kara no Sakebi (Cries from Minamata) that he later screened for specialists at the influential American think tank Resources for the Future, in Washington, DC.76 Tsuru’s prominence in international environmental circles also increased dramatically after the symposium, which he skillfully utilized to mount an attack on GNP economics and to advocate a welfare-centric vision of development.

(p.102) Tsuru Shigeto: Defining Development beyond the GNP Index

Most notable in this connection, in the months leading up to UNCHE, Tsuru delivered two highly influential lectures that clarified his critique of GNP and his position on the environment-development dilemma. The first, In Place of GNP, he delivered in July 1971 at Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH) in Paris, and the second, North-South Relations on the Environment, he delivered in April 1972 at the Columbia-United Nations Conference on Economic Development and Environment in New York.

At the New York conference in early 1972, Tsuru explained how, in the days of mass global unemployment during the Great Depression, economists had begun to closely associate GNP growth with improvements in economic welfare. Thanks to the Keynesian revolution in economic theory, they concluded that “any measure that would expand effective demand, even including the nonsensical digging and refilling of holes in the ground,” represented “a positive step towards increasing welfare so long as it brought about a net increase in employment.”77 Although unquestionably appropriate for the acute unemployment of the Great Depression, the notion that GNP growth equated to increased welfare gained such a position of “dominance” and “prestige” that “it acquired the status of orthodoxy” and came to be universally applied thereafter to all institutional configurations and economic circumstances.78 But with the onset of widespread industrial pollution and severe degradation of the human living environment, cracks appeared in this seemingly rock-solid orthodoxy and, for Tsuru, presented an opportunity for economists and political leaders to reconsider the dictum that an increase in GNP is, ipso facto, an increase in welfare.79

As Tsuru wryly observed in his speech, although called Gross National Product, the index was not really about production, since the most common method of its calculation—the expenditure method—totaled outflows for consumption, investment, government spending, and net exports and, in this sense, reflected gross national costs.80 Tsuru gave the example of trash. Intuitively, disposing of more trash might be considered an increased burden or “cost” for society, but in expenditure GNP accounting, increased government spending on waste disposal (for example, increasing the number of garbage trucks) was recorded as a positive addition to economic growth.81 But, more to the point, different from the “heyday of competitive capitalism,” when the link between GNP and welfare was “free of seriously misleading connotation,” in advanced economies of the contemporary era Tsuru (p.103) identified two fundamental changes that had severed this link once and for all.82 First, technological advances had “heightened the possibility of negative external effects of gigantic proportions,” most discernibly in environmental degradation and human disease from industrial pollution and contamination. Second, affluence had also transformed popular preferences such that people now valued “goods” not accounted for in calculations of GNP, such as public amenities, clean air, beautiful scenery, and a healthy living environment.83 Many developed societies may have achieved full employment, but the appearance of these negative factors and the changing preferences of consumers (i.e., now more post-materialist), paradoxically, had served to divorce the GNP index from actually perceived welfare. GNP was, according to Tsuru, no more than a “one-dimensional quantitative measure of growth” that tended to conceal “all kinds of concrete problems of social and economic reform which usually constitute the contents of development.84

Of particular interest to Tsuru and other environmental advocates were the so-called negative externalities or diseconomies born of GNP-centered economic growth. As we have seen, Tsuru had been interested in the negative effects of industry since the prewar years and through his postwar involvement in the TVA Colloquium. An invited lecture at Harvard University in the early 1960s on the role of cities in technological innovation and economic development further sparked his theoretical interest in the phenomenon of externalities. There he had argued, rather intuitively, that industry will tend to agglomerate near large urban centers because cities offer many positive externalities such as a ready workforce and various forms of infrastructure such as ports and railroads.85 Applying this same logic in a negative way, in 1961 he published an essay appropriately titled “Kōdo Seichō e no Hansei” (Reconsidering high-speed growth) in which he observed, “If an automobile travels at full speed on a muddy road it will throw up mud. The faster it goes the worse the spattered mud will be,” alluding, of course, to the pollution produced as a result of industrial activity.86 Indeed, the emergence of pollution confirmed for Tsuru a number of troubling realities about the free market system. At the microeconomic level, firms tended not to internalize the costs of negative externalities (especially those they were responsible for, such as air pollution) but the very shrewdest ones moved quickly to internalize positive externalities.87 Extrapolating this to the macroeconomic level, Tsuru observed how the advanced capitalist nations were thus able to grow by “squandering human stock and disregarding human decency of the working class (both at home and in colonies)” and by “taking (p.104) full advantage of the economic usefulness of common property resources without paying for them at the time of use.”88 Tsuru could only agree with Ui Jun, who similarly argued that pollution was not merely a by-product of economic growth but a fundamental—if counterintuitive—apparatus of growth under capitalism. As a crude index of growth, GNP failed to account for negative externalities like pollution or degradation of lakes, seas, and forests, and, as Tsuru explained to a 1971 audience in Paris, “Just as I can increase my monthly expenditure by drawing upon my past savings, we can make our GNP larger than other wise would be the case by depleting our store of resources without replacing them.”89

Therein lay the rub for Tsuru. When development was left to the vagaries of the free market, the “built-in bias for market goals” with all the associated negative externalities would inevitably come to dominate.90 The free market, by its very nature, was not capable of reflecting depletion, degradation, or other deleterious effects on so-called public goods like air, water, and scenery. Just as the MIT team predicted, economic activity within the GNP regime would continue unchanged regardless of decreasing resources, increasing population, or environmental degradation because the free market encouraged self-interested (and often socially irresponsible) behavior at the level of the firm. But once people began to question the logic and ethics of this dynamic—once the “failure of the market” was “admitted”—the fallacy of GNP would be revealed and people would recognize “that the ‘invisible hand’ does not work and that ‘someone’ has to take into his own hands the task of guiding the economy towards certain specific normative goals. … In other words, economics has to become political economy again with all its normative aspects concretely specified and the strategies spelled out.”91

Tsuru was not alone in his critique of GNP economics. At the Tokyo Symposium Tsuru convened in 1970, for instance, fellow economist Uzawa Hirofumi had also referred to the problem, observing how, “traditionally, the concept of real national income [i.e., real GNP] has been used as a measure of economic welfare. But this concept is an aggregation of only those goods and services which have positive prices. In order to use that concept as a measure of economic welfare, we have to deduct the cost involved in eliminating external diseconomies, but this is easier said than done because of the absence of market prices on them.”92 As Erik Dahmén put it, “Expressed in ordinary language, it is a question of considering damage to the environment as a cost just like any other cost of doing business. But this (p.105) formulation does not solve the problem, even theoretically.”93 One solution, according to Dahmén and many other economists, was to charge a fee, tax, or levy for negative externalities. In this system “no strict limitations would be set for the costs in the form of environmental damage that would be acceptable. Instead, a bill would be presented, the amount of which would be reduced or increased proportional to the reduction or increase in environmental damage.”94 At the level of national accounting, Uzawa Hirofumi proposed some kind of adjustment—similar to depreciation methods used in firms—for “deterioration or depreciation of social and natural capital,” hence making the GNP index a more accurate indicator of “welfare-oriented real national income.”95 Tsuru agreed, pointing to the “polluter pays principle” (PPP) proposed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in which externalities were internalized as ex post or ex ante costs “within the atomistic accounting of … originating industries or individuals.”96

But as Tsuru and other critical economists from wealthy developed countries soon discovered, their proposals to address pollution by imposing a charge on economic actors—effectively increasing the cost of operations and impeding growth—attracted vociferous and indignant opposition from the advocates of developing countries who, quite understandably, pointed to the hypocrisy of the wealthy nations. In a nutshell, these advocates argued that it was not fair that developing countries be forced to balance economic growth with environmental responsibility when the First World countries had done just the opposite in their own paths to advanced development. As the Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, noted in her speech at UNCHE, “We do not wish to impoverish the environment any further and yet we cannot for a moment forget the grim poverty of large numbers of people. … How can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”97 “When it comes to the depletion of natural resources and environmental pollution,” observed Gandhi, “the increase of one inhabitant in an affluent country, at his level of living, is equivalent to an increase of many Asians, Africans or Latin Americans at their current material levels of living.”98 The ECO newsletter, published by Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the Ecologist magazine, through UNCHE, acknowledged this criticism and suspicion about environmentalism among developing countries, noting that it was “seen by many as a plot by the rich to hang on to wealth won by despoiling the environment, while depriving the poor of (p.106) the fruits of development, in the name of ecological purity.”99 The reality, as Nigerian politician Adebayo Adedeji put it, was that “we may have one earth but we certainly do not have one world economy. We have instead an economically segmented world—a world polarized more than ever before into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’”100 The Brazilians, for example, scoffed at discussion about industrial pollution, labeling it a “rich man’s” concern, while the Ivory Coast declared that it would welcome pollution if this meant higher growth.101 This remarkably different perspective on the environment among the “have nots” by no means diminished Tsuru’s commitment to stopping environmental degradation from industrial pollution. But its focus on injustice and inequity also resonated with Tsuru’s theoretical leanings and his activist experience in Japan. The challenge, of course, was to formulate a solution responsive to both of these objectives—somewhere between a critique of GNP and the developmental rights of the Third World, so to speak.

Fearing that the developing nations might boycott the Stockholm conference, UNCHE secretary general Maurice Strong hastily brought together a group of twenty-seven eminent economists, sociologists, and environmentalists in the Swedish city of Founex in June 1971 to discuss the environment-development dilemma or, as it was often described, the “North-South” problem. Along with Tsuru, other participants included development experts such as the Egyptian Marxian economist Samir Amin, the Polish-born French eco-socioeconomist Ignacy Sachs, the Chilean economist and socialist Felipe Herrera, the Sri Lankan economist and civil servant Gamani Corea, and the noted Swedish macroeconomist Jan Tinbergen. After two weeks of intensive and productive discussion—what Strong later described as “one of the best intellectual exchanges” he had ever been involved in—the group produced an influential publication, The Founex Report on Environment and Development, which not only helped secure the participation of the developing nations at UNCHE the following year, but also shaped the future direction of the global environmental debate by laying the foundations of the idea of sustainable development.102

By substantially expanding the definition of the environment and by recognizing that the relationship between the environment and development was essentially different for developed and developing nations, the Founex group was able to argue that the environment and economic development need not necessarily be incompatible and that, accordingly, the developing nations would not be penalized in any future environmental protection (p.107) regime.103 The Founex Report argued that, while it was appropriate to understand development as a cause of environmental problems in developed nations, in developing countries development actually represented a cure for environmental problems. This was because the environmental problems of developing nations were of a “different kind” to the “quality of life” issues informing the developed countries’ environmentalism and reflective of “poverty” and the “lack of development” such as “poor water, housing, sanitation and nutrition … sickness and disease, and … natural disasters.”104

Although he participated in the Founex conference and helped craft the report, Tsuru was not completely satisfied with the outcome. He felt that broadening the concept of the environment to include problems such as soil erosion and human health was more about “strategic expediency,” to bring the developing nations on board, than about dealing with environmental destruction “in a straightforward way.”105 Founex solved the tension between the North and South, Tsuru argued, by creating two definitions of the environment, one for the developing nations and another for the developed, differentiated by their stages of economic development.106 As he explained in early 1972,

The choice before us, it seems to me, is either (I) to encompass all the conceivable major environmental issues under our purview, including, for example, such matters as soil erosion, urban plight, public health problems, etc., or (2) to focus more sharply on those phenomena which can be clearly defined as environmental problems exemplified typically by air and water pollutions and noise. The inclination to take the first of these alternatives appears to be motivated by strategic judgment … that the current environmental concern on the international scale can be taken advantage of to load onto that concept as many problem areas as possible so that aid activities in such fields can be intensified. Those who take this choice apparently fear also that the second alternative, if emphasized too sharply, will result in the recognition that the environmental concern, at least in some areas, conflicts with development objectives.107

In keeping with his critique of GNP-centered growth, Tsuru suggested, conversely, that it was the concept of “development” and not the “environment” that needed to be rethought. On the one hand, he believed the environment and environmental problems should be defined “precisely” and narrowly so that “counter-measures” at the local, national, and international (p.108) levels would “have a well-defined focus.”108 But, on the other hand, as he had been advocating to international audiences since well before Founex, he felt that development had to be reconceptualized as something far broader than the blunt measurement of the GNP index and more attuned to human welfare.109 To the extent that development was understood as the sum total of expenditure in the free market, the environment and development would be in conflict and there would be external diseconomies such as pollution.110 But what if the “failure” of market-led growth was finally accepted and “development” fundamentally reconceptualized within the “rubric” of “welfare-focused development planning”?111 In this rubric there would be no conflict between the environment and development, nor would there be any need for developing and developed nations to have different definitions of the environment.112 “The unifying philosophy here is that development has an aspect which has to transcend the market mechanism in the sense that public goods of both types—for producers and for consumers—have to be provided. It is in this sense that ‘development’ can subsume ‘environment’; and to the extent that ‘environment’ is subsumed under ‘development,’ it competes for limited funds available for various concrete needs of ‘development.’”113 The Brundtland Report of 1987 would later popularize this notion of environmentally informed development as “sustainable development,” but it was Tsuru and his contemporaries at events such as Founex and UNCHE who lay the foundations. Indeed, although Tsuru was critical of the Founex conference for expanding the scope of environmental problems, he was actually doing something similar in his reconceptualization of the idea of development. Indeed, the report of the Founex conference replicated, more or less, the same revision of development Tsuru advocated in New York, Paris, and elsewhere in the months before UNCHE. As the Founex Report stated,

Whilst the concern with human environment in developing countries can only reinforce the commitment to development, it should serve, however, to provide new dimensions to the development concept itself. In the past, there has been a tendency to equate the development goal with the more narrowly conceived objective of economic growth as measured by the rise in gross national product. It is usually recognized today that high rates of economic growth, necessary and essential as they are, do not by themselves guarantee the easing of urgent social and human problems. Indeed in many countries high growth rates have been (p.109) accompanied by increasing unemployment, rising disparities in incomes both between groups and between regions, and the deterioration of social and cultural conditions. A new emphasis is thus being placed on the attainment of social and cultural goals as part of the development process. The recognition of environmental issues in developing countries is an aspect of this widening of the development concept. It is part of a more integrated or unified approach to the development objective.114

Of course, Tsuru recognized that redefining development away from its market focus to include welfare aspects would involve costs, especially for developing nations. Given that developed nations produced most global pollution, he concluded that there was an “overwhelming” moral duty for the North to pay for the “clean up” and for “any extra costs imposed on developing nations by the introduction of nonpollutive technology ahead of local saturation.” Rather than “aid,” Tsuru said such transfers from the wealthy to the poor must be seen as obligations for technological excesses and for past injustices such as the gratuitous and immoral siphoning of natural resources by imperial powers from their colonies.115 Stockholm would be an opportunity to “consolidat[e] international public opinion towards acceptance of the general principle that developed countries should assume, at least for the coming decade or so, the major cost of keeping the pollutions [sic] with international consequences within permissible thresholds.”116

By the eve of UNCHE, then, Tsuru Shigeto had played a major role in rallying a transnational alliance committed to tackling the problem of environmental degradation worldwide. The Tokyo Symposium’s advocacy of “environmental rights” and Tsuru’s international activities from the late 1960s onward helped propel a worldview shaped by a specific national experience of environmental injustice to the very center of global debates about the environment and development. In his attempt to reconceptualize development as a process inclusive of human welfare considerations, Tsuru not only helped secure the participation of developing nations at Stockholm, but, just as significantly, he also contributed to the rudimentary formulation of a new—yet no less controversial—idea of sustainable development. It seems fair to conclude that, coupled with the impact of Japanese pollution victims at UNCHE, Japanese environmental activists like Tsuru contributed in significant ways to this defining moment of global environmentalism in the early 1970s. Importantly, they did so by drawing on a very local experience of industrial pollution and environmental injustice.

(p.110) Conclusion

In a sardonic twist on the UNCHE slogan “Only One Earth,” the day after the conference the New York Times ran an article titled “One Confused Earth,” in which it offered an understandably ambivalent analysis of the event.117 On the one hand, a participant interviewed for the article observed that what this “frustrating event for idealists” lacked was a “Thomas Jefferson—someone who could lift the delegates above their parochial concerns and rally them behind a contemporary equivalent of the call for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” On the other hand, however, although no such Jeffersonian savior emerged, the article still pronounced UNCHE a modest success; primarily because it happened at all, but also because the rich countries “learned in a very direct way” how differently the developing nations understood the “environment” and “development.” As the article observed, “One per sis tent theme heard from the underdeveloped countries was the obligation of the rich few to help them pay for the costs of environmental protection as they develop. That may sound strange in Washington, but it is the way much of the world feels.”118 According to historian John McCormick, UNCHE helped fashion a “more comprehensive view of human mismanagement of the biosphere,” and environmentalism arguably shifted from “the popular, intuitive, and parochial form” of that in rich countries to something more “rational and global in outlook” and, hence, more acceptable to nations at different stages of economic development.119

For environmental NGOs such as the group from Japan, UNCHE represented the beginning of a new phase of transnational interconnectivity and global influence that would continue to intensify thereafter. UNCHE showed Japanese activists the value of transnational activism as a political tool—a “boomerang” of influence, to use Keck and Sikkink’s idea—for exerting pressure back on the Japanese government. The effect of Polluted Japan on the Japanese government’s involvement at UNCHE revealed this potential most graphically. In the transnational activism of Tsuru Shigeto we also glimpse how Japanese transnational activists influenced the evolution of key concepts and debates on the environment. Tsuru’s critique of GNP and his attempt to reconceptualize “development” helped shape a wider debate about North-South inequities and the conflict between environmental protection and economic development. Tsuru’s privileged, cosmopolitan background also made it possible for him to move seamlessly between the worlds of officialdom, scientific experts, international organizations, and (p.111) grassroots movements, ineffect giving voice to the concerns of Japanese environmentalists at multiple levels. As Ui Jun observed in the ILP monthly newsletter, hereafter Japanese environmental movements needed to forge ever more intensive overseas connections. The day will undoubtedly come, he said, when a “blue-eyed stranger will approach us at a sit-in or a demonstration and ask for an explanation.”120 In order to cope with this future, the movement had to spread its network beyond the archipelago—which indeed it would do.

But engaging in the global environmental movement did not mean abandoning the local. As their involvement at UNCHE reveals, Japanese victims and activists drew on local experiences with industrial pollution to offer a distinctive interpretation of the limits to growth, which spoke forcefully to the horrendous human costs of economic growth. With their words and their injured bodies they argued that these human limits mattered as much as—if not more than—the limited capacity of the natural environment or the need to limit population. Tsuru Shigeto’s critique of GNP and his concept of welfare-focused development provided the theoretical framework for this discourse on humane limitations. Like the victims’ bodies, his appeal to human welfare as a guiding principle of environmentalism bore the undeniable imprint of a national trauma in which economic development had proceeded on the back of physical agony and multifaceted injustice.


(1) Leslie Paul Thiele, Environmentalism for a New Millennium: The Challenge of Coevolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 125–126.

(2) Albert Roland, Richard Wilson, and Michael Rahill, Adlai Stevenson of the United Nations (Manila: Free Asia Press, 1965), 224.

(3) On Kenneth Boulding see Edward de Steiguer, The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2011), chapter 8.

(4) See John S. Dryzek, The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 50; McCormick, Reclaiming, 68.

(5) Heise, Sense of Place, 4.

(6) Clarke, quoted in McCormick, Reclaiming, 68.

(8) Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968). On Ehrlich see de Steiguer, Origins, chapter 10.

(9) Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971). McCormick, Reclaiming, 70–71.

(10) Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III, The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on The Predicament of Mankind (New York: Universe Books, 1972), 154. McCormick, Reclaiming, 77–78; de Steiguer, Origins, chapter 14.

(12) Saskia Sassen, “Globalization or Denationalization?” Review of International Political Economy 10, no.1 (2003): 12.

(14) Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne, Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 54.

(15) NGO Committee on Education of the Conference of NGOs, “UN Documents: Gathering a Body of Global Agreements: United Nations Conference on the Human Environment,” http://www.un-documents.net/unche.htm, accessed May 28, 2014.

(16) See Principle 1 of the Declaration on the Human Environment, available at ibid. Also see Tsuru Shigeto and Okamoto Masami, “Gendai Sekai to Kōgai Mondai,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1, ed. Tsuru, 3; and Tsuru Shigeto, “Kokuren Kaigi Junbi Katei deno Mondaiten,” in Tsuru, Tsuru Shigeto Chosakushū, 453–454.

(17) Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Gods and Devils in the Details: Marine Pollution, Radioactive Waste, and an Environmental Regime circa 1972,” Diplomatic History 32 (2008): 553.

(18) Norman J. Faramelli, “Toying with the Environment and the Poor: A Report on the Stockholm Environmental Conferences,” Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 2, no. 3 (1972): 471.

(19) Sally Jacobsen, “II: A Call to Environmental Order,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 28, no. 7 (1972): 23.

(20) Matsui Yayori, “Kokuren Kankyō Kaigi Hōkoku II,” Kōgai Genron 15 (November 1972): 7, in Ui Jun Shūshū Kōgai Mondai Shiryō 2 Fukkoku “Kōgai Genron” (hereafter FKG) Dai 1-kai Haihon Dai 3-kan, ed. Saitama Daigaku Kyōsei Shakai Kenkyū Sentā (Tokyo: Suirensha, 2007), 339.

(23) Faramelli, “Toying,” 469; Frances Gendlin, “III: Voices from the Gallery,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 28, no. 7 (1972): 26.

(p.246) (25) Lars Emmelin, “The Stockholm Conferences,” Ambio 1, no. 4 (1972): 139.

(27) For this discussion see Ui Jun and Barry Commoner, “Taidan: Nichibei no Kōgai Hantai Undō,” Asahi Shinbun (morning edition, March 15, 1972): 23.

(29) Isomura Eiichi, “‘Kakegae no nai Jikoku’ kara ‘Kakegae no nai Chikyū e’: Kokuren Ningen Kankyō Kaigi e no Kokumin Sanka o,” Kakushin 24 (July 1972): 99.

(30) Gaimushō Kokusai Rengōkyoku, Nihon ni okeru Ningen Kankyō Mondai: Sono Genjō to Taisaku: 1972-nen no “Kokuren Ningen Kankyō Kaigi” no tame ni Kokuren ni Teishutsu shita Wagakuni no Hōkokusho (Tokyo: Gaimushō Kokusai Rengōkyoku, 1971). The report is also reproduced in full with critical annotations by Ui Jun. See: Ui Jun, “Higaisha Fuzai no Kōgai Hōkoku: Kokuren Ningen Kankyō Kaigi e no Nihon Seifu Hōkoku Hihan,” Jishu Kōza 10 (January 1972): 1–17, FJK 2, 221–251.

(32) Ui, ed., Kōgai Jishu, 15; Ui Jun, “Shingikai no Yakuwari, Nashonaru Repōto Hihan,” Kōgai Genron 3 (December 1971): 20, FKG 1–1, 120.

(33) Ui Jun, “Ningen Kankyō ni kansuru Kokuren Sōkai e no Repōto,” Kōgai Genron 6 (March 1972): 7, FKG 1–1, 271.

(35) Ibid., 123.

(39) “Kokuren Kankyō Kaigi e: Nō Moa Minamata: Kōgai Higaisha no Hōkoku wa Uttaeru,” Asahi Shinbun (morning edition, February 18, 1972), 3.

(40) Ui Jun, “Junrei no Tabi kara Kaette,” Jishu Kōza 16 (July 1972): 1, FJK 3, 209.

(42) Ibid., 9.

(43) Other Japanese groups at UNCHE included the JFBA and the Kōgai Taisaku Zenkoku Renrakukai (the Pollution Countermeasures National Liaison Committee). See “Minamatabyō Kanja nado 2 Dantai ga Ketsudanshiki: Kokuren Kankyō Kaigi o Mae ni,” Asahi Shinbun (morning edition, June 3, 1972), 18; “Itaibyō Soshō Kiroku Okuru: Nichibenren Suēden Bengoshikai ni,” Asahi Shinbun (morning edition, June 8, 1972), 23; Zenkoku Kōgairen, “Kokuren Ningen Kankyō Kaigi ni taisuru Zenkoku Kōgairen no Repōto,” Gekkan Sōhyō 180 (May 1972): 83–89.

(45) “Suēden e Shuppatsu: Minamata Kanjara Sannin,” Asahi Shinbun (morning edition, June 1, 1972), 23.

(p.247) (46) Ui, ed., Kōgai Jishu, 21; Ui, “Ningen,” 266; Kawana Hideyuki, Dokyumento Nihon no Kōgai 2: Kankyōchō (Tokyo: Ryokufu, 1988), 211.

(47) Matsui Yayori, “Kaimaku Semaru Kokuren Ningen Kankyō Kaigi. Kakkizuku Sutokkuhorumu. ‘Kōgai Nippon’ ni Kanshin. Oshiyoseru Hōdō Kankeisha,” Asahi Shinbun (evening edition, June 3, 1972): 8.

(50) See Matsui Yayori, “‘Seifu wa Nani o Shite ita: Kōgai Kanja Tōchaku Umeku Kishadan,” Asahi Shinbun (morning edition, June 5, 1972): 2; Honsha Kishadan, “‘Kōgai Nippon’ Kō Uttaeru. Kokuren Ningen Kankyō Kaigi: Hatsugen o Matsu Higaishara. ‘Teokure ni shita Seifu: Osoroshisa, Kono Mi de Shimesu’,” Asahi Shinbun (morning edition, June 5, 1972): 23; Kawana, Dokyumento 2, 212.

(51) Matsui Yayori, “Hisansa ni Ikinomu. Kiroku Eiga ‘Minamata’ o Jōei. Jinmin Hiroba de ‘Nihon no Yūbe,’” Asahi Shinbun (June 6, 1972): 8.

(53) Ui Jun, “Kokuren Kankyō Kaigi Hōkoku I,” Kōgai Genron 13 (July 1972): 6, FKG 1–3, 210.

(55) “Kite Yokkata: Minamatabyō no Hamamoto san,” Asahi Shinbun (evening edition, June 17, 1972): 3.

(58) Tsuru Shigeto, Tsuru Shigeto Jiden: Ikutsumo no Kiro o Kaiko shite (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2001), 340.

(59) Ibid., 38.

(60) Ibid., 45–46.

(61) Ibid., 47.

(62) Ibid., 48.

(63) Ibid., 54.

(64) Tsuru Shigeto, “Introduction,” in Tsuru Shigeto, Economic Theory and Capitalist Society: The Selected Essays of Shigeto Tsuru 1 (Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar, 1994), xxvi.

(66) Ibid., 221.

(67) Ibid., 224, 226, 255.

(69) Ibid., iii.

(p.248) (72) Tsuru Shigeto, “Foreword,” in Proceedings of International Symposium on Environmental Disruption: A Challenge to Social Scientists, ed. Tsuru Shigeto (Paris: International Social Science Council, 1970), xiii.

(73) K. William Kapp, “Environmental Disruption: General Issues and Methodological Problems,” in Proceedings, ed. Tsuru, 3.

(76) Tsuru Shigeto, Kōgai no Seijikeizaigaku (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1972), 17.

(77) Tsuru Shigeto, “‘North-South’ Relations on Environment,” in Tsuru, Economic Theory, 273.

(78) Tsuru, “North-South,” 276. On the idea of growth see Scott O’Bryan, The Growth Idea: Purpose and Prosperity in Postwar Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2009).

(79) Tsuru Shigeto, “Shimin Jichi no Atarashii Dankai,” in Tsuru, Tsuru Shigeto Chosakushū, 108.

(81) Tsuru Shigeto, “In Place of GNP,” in Tsuru, Economic Theory, 76.

(82) Ibid., 68.

(84) Italics in original. Tsuru, “‘North-South,’” 272.

(87) Tsuru Shigeto, “Jūmin no Tachiba kara mita Toshi Mondai,” in Tsuru, Tsuru Shigeto Chosakushū, 29.

(91) Tsuru Shigeto, “Towards a New Political Economy,” in Tsuru, Economic Theory, 103.

(92) See “Summary of Discussion,” in Proceedings, ed. Tsuru, 143.

(93) Erik Dahmén, “Environmental Control and Economic Systems,” in Proceedings, ed. Tsuru, 153.

(94) Ibid., 157.

(95) See “Summary of Discussion,” in Proceedings, ed. Tsuru, 145.

(97) Indira Gandhi, “Address of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 28, no. 7 (1972): 36.

(98) Ibid., 37.

(99) “Third World Ecology,” Stockholm Conference Eco (June 7, 1972): 5. (p.249)

(100) Adebayo Adedeji, “Excerpts from the Statement of Adebayo Adedeji, Federal Commissioner for Economic Development and Reconstruction, Nigeria, and Head of Nigerian Delegation: Deeds vs. Intentions,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 28, no. 7 (1972): 53.

(102) Founex Conference, The Founex Report on Environment and Development (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1972), Manitou Foundation Homepage, accessed May 28, 2014, http://www.mauricestrong.net/index.php/the-founex-report.

(106) Tsuru Shigeto and Okamoto Masami, “Gendai Sekai to Kōgai Mondai,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1, ed. Tsuru, 14.

(108) Ibid., 285.

(112) Ibid., 16.

(117) Anthony Lewis, “One Confused Earth,” New York Times (June 17, 1972), 29.