Consensus and environmental governance – day 3 report

Three days of constant dialogue and discussion can be tiring. Very tiring. It was an early night all round for the UK contingent tonight, and my collaborator Jun Kita forgot some of his Japanese when being served in the convenience store as a result of speaking English all weekend. But the consensus (fortunate given the theme of the workshop) was that it was a fruitful weekend.

The aim of Monday had been (a) to allow more time for presentations, and (b) to branch out into discussion and identify next steps. By good fortune we started with two practitioners. Shinji Yamamoto – a forester as well as an Associate Professor at Iwate University – told us about commons-based community forest management in Japan. Very interesting to note in this were the broad-based rationales for why communities developed these kinds of management schemes, but the underlying common goal of protecting and preserving the forest. Like Emily Creamer’s talk on Saturday, there was an interesting tension and/or opportunity here between ‘local’ communities and those from further away who may also have an interest in managing forests in this way. Yasushi Maruyama then followed up by looking at renewable energy in Japan post-2011. Maruyama-sensei is a professor at Nagoya University, but himself got involved in implementing and running a community wind scheme in the north of the country. I saw a really clear resonance to my own work on CO2 storage at the moment in Maruyama’s observation that silence (or the lack of violent opposition) does not necessarily equate to ‘acceptance’.


Naoyuki Mikami continued with an account of deliberative polling conducted after Fukushima. Again the parallels just kept on coming – I was particularly taken by Naoyuki’s observation that the complexity of contemporary energy issues means we often need more than one ‘expert’ in the room when we engage with the public to cover the whole range of issues that may be raised. The ‘practice’ theme continued here as Mikami-sensei was himself involved in the deliberative polling process, and recently published some of his findings as part of an edited collection.

Another observation that has really struck me over the last few days is how much the Japanese environmental sociologists know about the physical environments in which they conduct research. This was hammered home to me when first Tatsuya Kinjo and then Yuko Takasaki presented their work from islands south of the main part of Japan. Kinjo is looking at sotetsu management in Amami on Tokunoshima, and has drawn out the idea of sotetsu planting being carried out on the island for the benefits of future generations rather than the present – would be fascinating to see if this can be applied to other practices elsewhere. Yuko presented her doctoral work on local management of resource space in fisheries on Hamahiga in Okinawa. As a result of the building of an oil terminal and a causeway, fishers’ space has retreated. The response to this has been a shift towards almost total dependence on aquaculture (seaweed farming), with an associated sharp decline in young fishers’ cognitive mapping of the sea countered by older fishers passing on tales and knowledge through daily conversation and participation in traditional events. Yuko’s conclusion slide simply read ‘sorry – under construction’ – a very neat summation of the difficulty of drawing conclusions when the issues at play are so complex.


After lunch we had a roundtable session, where the Japan-based researchers moved round in small groups to talk in more depth to their UK counterparts. I had thought about doing this as a way of facilitating more discussion and – with help from Emily’s suggestion to pair the UK researchers up to allow a longer discussion – it seemed to work. Three twenty-minute intensive conversations based on responses to the UK research, with the Britain-based researchers taking notes. The room certainly was not quiet in any case.

One of the now-famous campus walks followed, made all the more pleasant by sunshine and warm temperatures. In all seriousness, getting out the seminar room to get people talking to each other, breathing in fresh air and thinking is really important, so a good 45 minutes were allocated to take in the west of the campus. With Hokkaido University having started out as an agricultural college, we stopped to take a look at the training farm and old Agricultural School Building.


The last hour was given over to summarising and discussing next steps. The ideas flowed out as fast as I could write them on the board: what do we actually mean by consensus? What scale are we talking about when it comes to consensus? What is the role of social scientists in environment-focused research? How do we understand ‘community’, and to what end? How does our understanding of ‘historical context’ change over time as we learn more and progress? All of these are things we are going to refine and explore in follow-on publications, proposals and workshops.

But before we finished there was a final surprise. With it now being 9.30am and the start of the working week, Claire Haggett joined us via Skype. Complete with a foot-high Dalek and packet of McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives, she took us through some of her recent work on wind and broader renewable energy in Scotland. This proved to be an excellent finish to the day, not only because of Claire’s enthusiastic presenting style but also because the topics she raised matched up with – and crystallised – many of the things we’d talked about over the previous few days.


It might have seemed odd to finish with a presentation, but as it happened the way we saw the same themes come out as it served brilliantly to confirm that this isn’t a one-off, but the start of something much longer-term and bigger. It will take a little time to digest and draw ideas out of this, which I’m looking forward to. But before then, time to rest.

We are hugely grateful to the GB Sasakawa Foundation for their funding, which allowed the workshop to take place.


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