Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

I guess the name speaks for its self.

Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Andrea on Wed May 11, 2011 11:33 am

one of my Ph.D. students recently returned from fieldwork in Japan and told me about an intriguing consequence of the disaster. Because the earthquake has knocked out a number of key factories, the Japanese are running out of all sorts of things. For example, some food manufacturers are having real difficulties in sourcing packaging:

Major natto maker Takanofoods Co., based in Omitama, Ibaraki Prefecture, has resumed operations at its factory, but has yet to secure a stable supply of natto containers. This has kept output down to less than half the level before the disaster

According to a packaging material company in Tokyo, the lack of plastic film is more serious than the shortage of containers. Because of earthquake damage suffered by a petrochemical complex in Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture, ethylene and other raw materials used to make the film have been difficult to come by.

The milk supply chain has been disrupted by a shortage of cardboard cartons. Nippon Paper-Pak Co., a major beverage packaging firm, had to suspend operations at its two plants in Ibaraki Prefecture due to the disaster, and its storage warehouse was damaged. http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110402002556.htm


Because there is no packaging, food like soya products and milk is becoming scarce!

It is also reported that the car manufacturer, GM, will regain its number one spot as the world's biggest car builder since Toyota can't supply its worldwide factories with components.

Makes you rethink about the value of localisation.....
esse sequitur operari
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby jim_lewis1 on Thu May 12, 2011 12:03 pm

or at least resilience, IE diversity of sources of resources. In places like Thailand, Milk etc. is often sold in a small unmarked plastic bag, such as you buy veg. in at the supermarket. (and India, now I think of it) Whilst this may not meet normal standards of hygeine or storage expected in a developed country such as Japan, perhaps such solutions need to be available in extraordinary circumstances such as this.

One thing that Japan's disaster has brought into my mind is Gibson's quote that, 'the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed'. the problems facing such an advanced nation as Japan as it grapples with the aftermath of the tsunami are perhaps not so different to those the rest of the developed world will face as energy/resource limitations and impacts of climate change take effect.

rather than scrambling to try to rebuild to it's original level perhaps Japan could be at the forefront of an energy descent plan, rebuilding in a newer, less resource/energy intensive manner. if nuclear really is off the table it will be interesting to see whether the reality of less abundant energy will drive such efforts, or whether an addiction to energy drives the policy.
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Dave H on Fri May 13, 2011 9:11 am

I feel that the Japanese case study shows that we should significantly reduce the amount of packaging associated with food products. This would reduce the use of resources wasted in producing the packaging and would have the indirect benefit of making food supplies more local as without packaging it would be more difficult to transport the food long distances. This seems to be a win win situation and making for a more sustainable future.
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Neill on Fri May 13, 2011 2:47 pm

> Makes you rethink about the value of localisation....

It does indeed.
If everything is localised, then a local disaster can wipe out everything.
Of course, another neighbouring locality will expand to fill the gap but that is sounding dangerously like globalisation.
Surely an advantage of globalisation is that when a supplier in locality one is having a problem, a supplier in locality two can take over supplies.
If there is a local supplier of milk bottles and that supplier disappears overnight and other suppliers are not available or not allowed to "move in" then that means no milk.

St Kilda used to be a very good example of lacalisation but it wasn't the way that I would want to live.
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Andrea on Fri May 13, 2011 3:41 pm

Neill wrote:> If everything is localised, then a local disaster can wipe out everything.


Yes, localisation has advantages and disadvantages. I raised exactly the same point in the Transition Towns Forum and got a bit of a mumbled response.

But the point about globalised interdependency is 'contagion': problems in one locality can very quickly spread to have global repercussions. To give a few examples: the swine flu outbreak on a farm in Mexico; the immolation of a young man in Tunisia; the failure of Lehman Brothers in the US; the support of the mujahedin against the Soviets by the CIA etc etc

You do wonder whether increased interdependencies are creating more problems than they are solving.....

What I would favour is an emphasis on localisation with globalised networks as a backup when things go wrong locally, rather than the other way round.

We are creating globalised systems that are unpredictable and unmanageable. if they collapse, then we are all stuffed :shock:
esse sequitur operari
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Neill on Mon May 16, 2011 9:42 am

Andrea wrote
I raised exactly the same point in the Transition Towns Forum and got a bit of a mumbled response.

Been there. It is always interesting to raise a valid point that disagrees with what is being said and watch the mumbles.

He also wrote
emphasis on localisation with globalised networks as a backup when things go wrong locally, rather than the other way round.

That makes sense to me but what is the financial incentive to create a global backup if the localized system is working. As long as the local system is OK, people will agree to think about the global backup "tomorrow or the day after".

A small system is more vulnerable than a larger one because in the larger one we can afford backups and more redundancy. Both need to be designed to be viable in a changing environment but I still think that the larger system can be designed to take more stress.

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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Andrea on Mon May 16, 2011 4:09 pm

The problem with the global system, Neill, is the 'preferential attachment' phenomenon i.e. the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with very little accountability for the former (if things get problematic they just f@*^-off to another tax haven). Surely there is more accountability, and less extremes of wealth, in a localised system?
esse sequitur operari
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Neill on Tue May 17, 2011 6:46 pm

Hi Andrea,
Maybe we are talking at odds here.

I am talking about two theoretical models.
One has a lot of little localities which are effectively cut off from one another in a meaningful time frame.
The other has the same set of localities but allows instant "communication" and "movement" between them.
My suggestion is that a disaster (the death of the baker and both his assistants in an accident) in one locality can not be easily counteracted in model 1.
In model 2 a bakers assistant from another locality will move in and start baking.
I am suggesting that model 1 as a whole is more sustainable than model 2.

You are talking about business winning over democracy.
I haven't even incorporated democracy in to my model yet.

I thought we could start with my simple model to try and find some "truths" and then scale it up to see where "things go wrong".

Neill
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Teiana on Tue May 17, 2011 11:19 pm

homeland and overthere are two neighbouring places. In homeland, you can only buy things from homeland. No importing of anything is allowed. The prices are set by the local manufacturers and the local people pay them. Homeland bakers are rich.
Homeland is struck by civil war and a new regime takes over, and now imports are flooding in from overthere. Prices tumble as the overthere things are cheap. overthere Bakers start bussing in their bread and cakes daily. Homeland bakers go out of business.

how do you have a system that protects the local economy and still allows imports/exports etc? If you have the first situation, no imports, local safe economy, but, when the bakery explodes, people get hungry.
if you have the second situation, people will always have bread, but it can come from anywhere, local economy is not protected.
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: Japan earthquake exposes interdependencies

Postby Andrea on Wed May 18, 2011 4:21 pm

So, I guess Teiana's point is that you need both. The problem with having one heart is that when it malfunctions you're dead, no matter where you've got it. Having two kidneys is a very good idea.

But how do you keep a balance between globalisation and localisation, so that they can both operate simultaneously?
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