Japan after Fukushima

Image of "Japan " by jannoon028 at
Image of “Japan ” by jannoon028 at

This spring I taught an “Introduction to International Studies” class, which had 12 students in it from Waseda university in Japan. They are outstanding students, and I always feel that I learn more from them than they from me during the class. During some of my individual conversations with the students I was struck by the impact that the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami had on their lives. The subsequent nuclear accident magnified an already terrible crisis, in which over 15,000 people died. Now the country is also having to rethink its energy future, while dealing with nuclear cleanup. As Japan made the decision to close its nuclear reactors -now the subject of great debate- the entire country was plunged into efforts to conserve energy.

The quirky blog the Pink Tentacle (which now sadly seems to be inactive, as the last post was from April 2011) had a broad focus on everything from the graphic arts and history to science and technology in Japan For example, it has a collection of catfish prints created after the great 1855 quake. In traditional Japanese culture, earthquakes were caused by catfish spirits. After this nineteenth century quake a diverse set of catfish prints became bestsellers. In these prints, one can see a human mob chasing catfish for revenge, tradesman partying with the catfish (because the rebuilding brought them so much money), or the great god Kashima lecturing the catfish for having misbehaved. These prints are a great source for social history, as they show popular attitudes towards the earthquake’s social impact, and raise many questions. Why for examples, were prostitutes a particularly significant group depicted in some prints? …

Colombia’s Oil Boom

Brazil, Canada and the United States are currently receiving a great deal of attention for an energy boom, which has seen dramatic growth in the oil produced in the Western Hemisphere. But there is one nation that may soon be added to this list, which has never been thought of as an energy power: Colombia. The reasons for this shed light on energy politics in South America, and suggest the costs that Venezuela may be paying for its policies.

Canada’s Northern Gateway Pipeline

An article by Edward Welsch in the Wall Street Journal today today talks about upcoming

Photo “Two Oils of Alberta” by Rosemary Ratcliff, courtesy of

hearings regarding Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would bring oil from Alberta to Kitimat on the British Columbia coast. As I discussed in an earlier blog post, Canada views this pipeline as an alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move oil to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Legally, the Obama administration must make a decision on this Keystone XL pipeline by the end of February. Because production from the Oil Sands is increasing so rapidly, Canada badly needs to find an additional means to bring petroleum to market. From the perspective of the Canadian government, therefore, the Northern Gateway pipeline allows it to hedge its bets, by allowing to sell oil to the Asian market, in particular China. Even if President Obama’s administration approves the Keystone XL, the Canadian government badly wants this other pipeline to the Pacific to increase its market options. …

Canada’s Oil Sands, Pipelines and Atomic Bombs

I am a Canadian, born and raised in Southern Ontario. I founded a Canadian Studies program at my university. I was happy to see our first student recently graduate with a Canadian Studies certificate, and I am currently writing a book on a Canadian topic. So, it has been very painful for me to watch Canada’s recent foreign policy decisions related to global warming and the Oil Sands, particularly this last week in South Africa. My frustration has been magnified by the fact that I myself wrote an article about the Oil Sands years ago that -in retrospect- failed to examine the environmental costs of this resource.

Photo by puttsk at

Recent technical breakthroughs  have led to a current giddy sense of optimism about energy production, and the promise that the Western hemisphere rather than the Middle East may be the future of oil and gas production. As Daniel Yergin noted in a recent newspaper column: “U.S. petroleum imports, on a net basis, reached their peak -60%- of domestic consumption in 2005. Since then, they have been going in the other direction. They are now down to 46%.” Yergin pointed to the technological changes that made this possible: “The reason is the sudden appearance of `tight oil,’ which is extracted from dense rocks.” The spread of shale oil production has reversed the decline of domestic oil production. But there are costs to this development, and choices to be made. For a long time, the Canadian government has said that it would meet the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, but that it would do so without restricting Oil Sands development. But in Durban, South Africa last week Canada set this position aside for an all-out attack on Kyoto. …

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