Forward looking Japanese families choose sustainability over growth

The Economist recently published a doom-and-gloom piece about Japan's declining population, which declined by 224,000 people last year. While worldwide population is growing by the same 224,000 every day,2 growth mongers at the Economist are aghast that a country could embrace returning to a sustainable population. They lament the projection that Japan's population will sensibly decline by 40 million people by 2060.

Fortunately, Japan has embraced a rational population policy which includes a near-zero immigration rate - something the United States and Europe must consider if sustainability is to remain an achievable goal. Approximately two percent of Japan's population is foreign, although this includes large numbers of permanent Chinese and Korean residents who have lived in Japan for generations.1

Writers at the Economist and even some shortsighted leaders within Japan wish to return to a policy of growth-at-any-cost. The article notes that:

The United Nations estimates that without raising its fertility rate, Japan would need to attract about 650,000 immigrants a year. There is no precedent for that level of immigration in this country, which is still a largely homogenous society."

The increasingly non-homogenous United States population is projected to double this century, driven primarily by mass immigration. That will mean twice as many roads, houses, cars, schools, hospitals, and prisons, and twice the demand for water, electricity, and oil. The opposite is occurring in Japan, which will need less of everything. In return, they will have more room for nature, open spaces, sustaining ecosystems and quality of life.

Japan will realize tangible benefits on the path to sustainability. While Japan has sizeable annual renewal water resources,3 the largest dam in Japan - the Arase Dam in Kumamoto Prefecture - is now being demolished. One of the driving factors for this removal is projected population decline.4

Japan's gasoline consumption averages approximately 883 thousand barrels of gasoline per day. With a 32% population drop, it can be expected that a savings of 353 thousand barrels per day will be obtained.7 The average Japanese person eats slightly more than his own weight (70.6 kg) of seafood every year. Thus a reduction of 40 million people will result in a reduced yearly consumption of 282.4 million kilograms of fish.8 This surely will go a long way toward replenishing depleted fisheries.

A critical motivating factor for the Japanese undoubtedly must be the Fukishima catastrophe. After the Fukishima incident, Japan shut down all of its nuclear reactors at least temporarily and is planning to eliminate the need for nuclear energy by the 2030s.5,6 Popular opinion now overwhelmingly opposes the use of nuclear power. It logically follows that fewer people will require less energy, no matter what the source.

The Economist conveniently forgets that national fertility is determined by decisions of individual women as to whether and when to have a child, not by economists seeking infinite growth within a finite country. It is abundantly clear that individual Japanese have chosen a low-fertility route to a less populous, more sustainable, and more desirable future.


1. The incredible shrinking country, The Economist, March 25, 2014.

2. World Population Balance population growth clock.

3. Total Renewable Freshwater Supply by Country:

Japan: 430 square kilometers per year as of 1999.

United States: 3,069 square kilometers per year as of 1985.

4. Japan Eyes Demolishing Unmanageable Infrastructure, Japan Realtime, April 18, 2014.

5. Japan shuts down last nuclear reactor -- for now, CNN, September 16, 2013.

6. Japan Says "No" to Nuclear Power, Energy Trends Insider, September 16, 2012.

7. - Gasoline consumption:

The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides data for Japan from 1984 to 2010. The average value for Japan during that period was 882.94 thousand barrels per day with a minimum of 620.04 thousand barrels per day in 1984 and a maximum of 1049.37 thousand barrels per day in 2004. - coal imports

The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides data for Japan from 1980 to 2011. The average value for Japan during that period was 143585.49 thousand short tons with a minimum of 75681.39 thousand short tons in 1980 and a maximum of 208983.91 thousand short tons in 2007.

8. It's Hard to Imagine Life in Japan without Seafood, NIPPONIA No.21 June 15, 2002.

9. Global Carbon Footprint graphic