03 December, 2008

Biomass for the masses

A joyful memory from my childhood is of wading knee-deep though accumulations of leaves along the pavements and roads leading home from school . Early early this morning, while passing a long, neat line of plastic bags, bursting to the brim with freshly fallen leaves, it occurred to me that my daughters here in Japan might might never be afforded the same autumn memories from their childhoods.

In Japan, there is a curious obsession with taming nature, with making it neat and tidy, and presentable. Yet in doing so, they are often destroying the nature that they so profess to love. It is a common sight in autumn to see large groups of city workers hacking off tree branches before the leaves have a chance to fall. What happens to the proceeds of their labour I'm not sure but with Japan's current measly 1% of energy coming from renewables such as biomass, wind, and solar, surely there needs to be a revaluation of the nations energy policies. Blessed with natural hot-springs (onsens) from almost every nook and cranny of this archipelago, why isn't it that geo-thermal energy doesn't supply a significant amount of Japan's energy? Japan should seriously follow the lead taken by countries already producing significantly higher percentages of their primary energy from renewable energies (Austria 65%, Sweden 44%, Portugal 26%, Finland 24%).

One of the more interesting successes in this field can be found in the city of Stockholm (and in particular, the district of Hannarbysjostad). Each house and apartment is connected to a network of collection tubes for biodegradable and burnable household rubbish. Periodically this is vacuum-tubbed away to a collection point where the biomass is used in a combined heating-power station. All sewage is collected in a similar manner and used to produce bio-gas for household gas supplies. This was also featured in a recent BBC Radio 4 podcast for the One Planet programme.

There are also many lessons to be learned from the traditional Japanese method of farming known as Satoyama. It was as little as 40 years ago that most farmers were still harvesting leaves from the forests surrounding the rice fields to use as fertilizer. In stark contrast, today, Japanese agriculture is now characterised by the pay and spray policies of its Government which ensures that Japanese farmers are among the highest users of agro-chemicals in the world.

Bring back the power and beauty of fallen leaves.

1 comment:

ted said...

Saw this premature amputation twice this week. Yesterday, I stood in the middle of the street, to the east was still autumn, bright yellow leaves an exclamation point to a bright beautiful day. To the west was winter, gnarled limbs splayed like contorted fingers, reaching up as if screaming, Why!?"