Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city


We had all suspected it, but the official confirmation that the rainy season had ended seemed to give summer an unrequired impetus. Barely into July and already with the mercury regularly nudging 30 before breakfast time, this is perhaps no sensible climate for an auburn-haired English rose.

This is my first Japanese summer, as I arrived in late August last year, still in enough time to know the feeling of being covered in sweat from waking until falling fitfully asleep again, but thankfully having ducked the worst.

This year has also been compounded by the events of March. Aside from the nuclear power plant damaged by the quake and tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi, a large number of others have been taken offline for checks. To avoid the real possibility of unplanned power cuts, everyone is trying to save energy where possible. Lights are off or dimmed, factories are planning weekend shifts and the train companies preparing for reduced services. But the biggest cause for concern and topic of conversation is air conditioning.

As part of what has been designated ‘cool biz’ companies (including the one I work for) have agreed to set their AC to 28 degrees. At first I thought this would be far too warm, however when it is 32 outside, 28 feels rather pleasant! I have heard about other companies turning it off completely though, and it is here where my patience wears a little thin.

As a person who cares about the planet, I confess to feeling a little uneasy about running the AC for long periods. Pushing out all that warm air makes the city warmer, so it creates a greater need for cooling and so on and so on. This week has seen embattled Prime Minister Kan call for Japan to begin weening itself off nuclear power completely and it is to be hoped that new technologies can over time advance more sustainable methods to bridge the gap.

And yet, and yet…

This is not an ideal world. There is no avoiding that Japan has a hot and humid climate at this time of the year. I have already heard of one person who, when feeling unwell, was told by his doctor to forget the power saving and get the AC on. Of course,  precious power resources shouldn’t be used wastefully but it seems that asking people to economise to such an extent can only lead to more headlines like this in the future.

My fear is that this summer, people are going to be putting their lives on the line to save the power companies revenue streams [As, although they may lose in the short term on electricity bills, they won’t have to invest in new plants just yet]. Meanwhile, governments and utilities can swerve the essential decisions on where we go from here for another couple of decades. That really should be enough to make anyone’s blood boil!

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