The sun is starting to hit the side of the World City Towers, which means it’s the end of the day and very nearly the end of this campaign of fieldwork in Japan. Tomorrow I fly back to Aberdeen via Frankfurt, and then will begin the task of trying to analyse the data around teaching and other research commitments. It is still far too early to draw any kind of conclusions, but here are a few thoughts that are swilling round in my head. I presented these at a seminar in Kaiyodai last week, and will refine them before presentation at the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland conference in a couple of weeks:
- monitoring – there is little point in hitting people over the head with science and telling them food, nuclear power stations, carbon dioxide storage sites or whatever are safe. Yes, scientific information is important in order to allow publics and stakeholders to make informed decisions. Attempts to ‘convince’ people something is 100% safe can induce scepticism – what this work has suggested to me is that what people want to see is that adequate monitoring and remediation procedures are in place should something untoward happen. Of equal importance is avoiding assumptions and understanding why exactly people are concerned (e.g. is it perceived unfairness in the way they are exposed to risks), what they want to know, and who they want to hear it from. Which leads nicely into…
- trust – trust in the messenger is of vital importance. One thing that has struck me really here is the relationship between citizens and local government officials, representatives and employees – there seems to be something about the idea of local officials as also being citizens that brings about trust. This was hugely evident in the Iwaki trial fisheries, and is something I really want to look into more. A hunch I have is that if the people doing the monitoring are likely to be personally affected by the outcomes, and do not stand to gain financially from the results, then trust might be higher. More analysis needed though;
- culture. Never underestimate how energy and environmental governance decisions can affect the culture of a place. This seems to be well understood in Scotland, for instance the national marine plan explicitly mentioning the relationship between culture and Scotland’s seas from the off, and in a coastal context it is crucial to bear in mind that close relationships can be formed with places not spatially proximate. How to redress the cultural implications of major environmental changes like the Fukushima incident is something perhaps much harder to try to get a handle on that economic or policy implications.
A final thing that keeps playing through my mind is how can I return the good will and support that all the various people who have helped me along the way have shown? Whether it is the Iwaki fishers and researchers giving up their precious time to attend a focus group and talk to me, the hugely enthusiastic people of Tomakomai bursting to tell the world about their town, or the Fukushima reconstruction and monitoring teams who acknowledge the messy and complex reality of radioactive contamination, I feel a real moral responsbility to try to do something to repay the good will that has made this research possible. What can I, as a researcher going back to Scotland who has to juggle the academic pressures of quick-fire peer-reviewed publishing and the generation of revenue in the form of grant income, do that is going to be of value to all those in Japan that have helped me?
It is a question I will be thinking about long after the wheels of the Lufthansa jet leave the Narita tarmac tomorrow morning at 9.45am. What I do know, however, is that I definitely do not wish this to be the last time I visit these parts of Japan for research.