Personal Lessons in Conservation

Czech researcher Petra Karlova sees energy conservation as a major task to be tackled as a nation—but also as something to be undertaken, and considered carefully, by individuals. The lessons that each of us takes away from this will impact the shape of the future that we create in the course of recovery.

Czech researcher Petra Karlova sees energy conservation as a major task to be tackled as a nation—but also as something to be undertaken, and considered carefully, by individuals. The lessons that each of us takes away from this will impact the shape of the future that we create in the course of recovery.

In Tokyo, where I live, we can feel that change is underway. The city is darker at night as lights are turned off to conserve electricity. Escalators in subway stations stand immobile. Sports facilities that were once available for use are no longer being opened to the public. In the immediate aftermath of the March 11 earthquake, when rolling blackouts were a fact of life, it was clear to everybody that we needed to work together to use less power. Today, though, as we consider the future of our electricity use, each one of us may need to find new ways to do our part as individuals.

I am a student of karate. During April, the school gymnasium where I usually practice was not open for use, having been shut down to save energy. There was a tournament coming up, though, so my teacher scrambled to find an alternate location where we could continue honing our techniques. It was a comfort in those days, when aftershocks were a regular occurrence, to see the faces of my friends from the dojo as we enjoyed being able to continue our practice.

Looking back on it now, though, it is clear that the decision to close the school gymnasium saved no energy in the Tokyo area—our group merely found a different location and ended up using the same amount of electricity. We may in fact have undermined the school’s efforts to contribute to the conservation cause.

This realization woke me up to the fact that energy conservation is something that needs to be considered within a broader context. For example, all of us have something in our lives we would prioritize over efforts to reduce electricity use—as in the case of my karate practice. And since electricity isn’t a resource we can store for later if we don’t use it right away, even if we decide not to use power at a given time that power may simply go to waste, ending up used for no purpose at all. Only when all of the people living together in Tokyo come to grips with the basic rules of being considerate to the environment will energy-saving practices have a truly beneficial effect.

Plenty of electricity goes to waste in the Czech Republic, too. Many people leave the lights on in unoccupied rooms, turn on television sets that nobody is watching, and forget to turn off the lights in the toilet after they finish using the facilities. Ever since the socialist era there have been posters urging people to conserve power and water, but they have long gone unnoticed.

I believe this is because the people were secure in the knowledge that there was enough power to go around. Whether they made efforts to use less electricity or not, went their thinking, it would make no difference. It is wrong, though, to believe that an individual’s wasteful electricity use has no impact on the environment. Take a city on the scale of Tokyo, with 10 million individuals, and it is clear that if each and every one of them reduces wasteful use it will amount to a significant overall reduction in power draw. This is why we must engage in power-saving efforts by first managing our personal use of electricity.

We can of course look forward to some improvements thanks to the energy-efficient air conditioners, washing machines, and other appliances made in Japan, as well as energy-optimized architectural designs. I am no expert in this field, but I would like to see the natural climate-control functions of Japan’s traditional wooden structures put to greater use in buildings in the nation’s cities.

At times I wonder whether the small efforts I make to conserve power will really contribute to Japan’s recovery in any way. The people in areas directly impacted by the disaster have very different tasks to tackle from those of us in Tokyo when it comes to recovery. One thing we have in common, though, is our need to learn from reality and rethink our approaches to daily life. In other words, I believe that the manner of Japan’s recovery will differ greatly depending on how we think and act as individuals. For me, the idea of recovery goes beyond merely setting Japan back on its feet after the March 11 disaster. It relates closely to our thinking about what kind of future we seek to create, and our growth toward that goal. (Written on May 10, 2011.)

In This Series
Insights from a Czech Scholar in Japan
Japan on Czech TV (May 12)
Personal Lessons in Conservation (May 10)
Bottled Up Feelings About Water (May 3)
The Downside to Japanese Self-Restraint (April 18)
Stay Strong Japan! You Are Not Alone! (March 25)

Petra Karlova

Petra Karlova

Received an MA in Japanese and Vietnamese Studies and a doctorate in history from Charles University in Prague. Is now studying international relations at the Waseda University Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies. Dr. Karlova has a keen personal interest in Japanese culture, history, and martial arts.