Climate change threatens agriculture and infrastructure in Ehime


For a cloudy day in January, it is strikingly warm in Matsuyama city. Matsuyama is the largest city on Shikoku, Japan’s smallest main island. Usually the coldest month of the year, Matsuyama is today enjoying a very mild 14 degrees C.

The warmer winter days are only one sign of the increasing grasp of climate change in south Japan. Regional typhoon patterns are also changing, and the combination of rising temperatures and increasing typhoon damage poses new threats to the region.

According to the Japanese Meteorological survey, Average temperatures in Matsuyama have risen by 1.74 degrees C in the last century. The Paris agreement set an international target to limit the global temperature increase since pre-industrial times to 2 degrees C, and if possible to 1.5 degrees C. That means that Matsuyama has already missed the UN’s preferred target.

According to the Ehime prefectural office, The frequency of torrential rain, flooding, heat waves and drought have all increased in recent years.  Ehime, one of four prefectures in Shikoku, has suffered damage to infrastructure and agriculture due to the increasingly extreme weather.

South Japan is no stranger to typhoons, but the storms are likely to become more dangerous as water temperatures continue to rise. Sato Yoshinobu, associate professor in the faculty of agriculture at Ehime University, says that rising sea water temperature has led to an increase in water vapour in the air, which is one of the main reasons for the heavy rain last year.

According to Sato, “The increase of sea surface temperature is mainly due to global warming.
According to the climate model simulation developed by the Japan Meteorological Agency (MRI-AGCM), the number of typhoons approaching  Japan is predicted to decrease. However the strong typhoons will increase. The strong typhoons with strong wind and heavy rain will result in landslides and cause fruit to drop”

Climate change is already affecting the success of crop yields in Japan. A 2017 report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) states that rice grains and fruit are failing to ripen completely. Popular fruits including grapes, apples and mandarin oranges are gradually losing their colour and the skins of the fruits are becoming softer.

Though the MAFF report shows that Japanese food production is already feeling the strain of climate change, Sato Yoshinobu believes that an average daily temperature of above 27 degrees C will result in very serious damage to both the local mandarin orange and rice crops, both of which are staples of the local economy. This past summer saw temperatures well over 30 degrees C, much higher than the temperature Sato considers serious for local crops.

Research stations in Shikoku are currently attempting adaption strategies to better cope with the new challenges to agriculture posed by regional climate change. For example, researchers are trying out delaying mandarin orange harvesting times and are breeding new varieties of rice better suited to the changing climate.

last year damage caused by typhoons and major storms increased considerably, and local residents were seriously affected. Takahashi Naoko, a teacher in Matsuyama, believes that the changing weather was particularly noticeable last year. “There was much more rain last year than before” she said. “In Ehime, the rain caused numerous landslides. It was very dangerous; the rivers overflowed, and sometimes roads were blocked by fallen trees or by the landslides. It really was a year of extremes”.

Most of the inhabited part of Ehime is by the coast, and the typhoons bring a hidden challenge to the region’s towns. The high winds bring salt spray far onto land, which then settles on agricultural plots. The accumulation of sea salt makes the land less productive, adding to the strain on crops already created by rising temperatures.

Not everyone is so concerned by changes in climate in Shikoku. Tanaka Hirohiko, long-term resident of Hojo in central Ehime, believes that the effects of climate change have been relatively slow in Shikoku and only poses a threat to the next generation.

Tanaka acknowledged however a number of noticeable changes. “The local fishing industry has been affected. I think that this is related to climate change, not overfishing”, he said. He is also concerned about local crops. “Because temperatures are higher now, there are more pests, which are damaging crops. This is damaging the local economy in general, as agriculture is such a major part of it”.

Tanaka also mentioned that a friend of his had completely lost his mandarin orange warehouse when it was swept away after a river burst its banks.

Shikoku is one of the most rural regions in Japan. Over 91% of Japan’s population lives in urban locations, but the cities in Shikoku are few and far smaller than those of the other three main islands of Japan. Because of this, the region is particularly sensitive to change in agriculture and damage to infrastructure between towns.

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Mikyan, Ehime Prefecture’s mascot. Ehime is famous for its mandarin oranges, so much so that the local mascot is half dog, half orange. Ehime’s famous fruit may however be threatened by climate change in the future.

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Mandarin oranges, or Mikan by the local name, can be seen all over Ehime in the late autumn. This year, they are still on the trees well into January.

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Kashima Island, known for its tame deer. The island was one of many places in Shikoku that experienced more landslides than usual during last summer’s storms.

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Fishing is a major industry in Shikoku. Locals say that fish stocks are down, and powerful typhoons have damaged fish farms.

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The main street in Hojo, Ehime prefecture. Shikoku is one of the most rural regions of Japan and the local economy is heavily reliant on agriculture. This makes the region particularly vulnerable to climate change.

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Agricultural land in Shikoku is situated on the thin stretch of land between the sea and the mountains that make up the majority of the island. The proximity of the cultivated land to the sea means that crops take the full brunt of typhoons. Crops get damaged not only by the high wind speeds and excessive rain, but also by the salt spray carried by the storms from the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unheard plight of Xinjiang (original published in The Gryphon, 2014)


Seeing as Xinjiang’s re-education camps have brought the region and its controversies finally into wide public view, I have decided to post my old article published in The Gryphon in 2014 to my blog. It is out of date, but my reasoning for putting it here is to highlight that what is happening now is not something new, but an escalation. I understand many of the claims in the article may seem unjustifiable, but much of what I wrote stemmed from either personal experience or from the direct experience of people I met in Xinjiang.  My question, for which I have no answer yet, is why did it take so many years and the possible imprisonment of 1 million innocent people to make the news?

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The unheard plight of Xinjiang

The question of Tibetan independence from Mainland China is relatively well known to the west, and there has been a large amount of campaigning from within and abroad the region to declare it its own country. The culture and way of life of native Tibetans has been slowly chipped away at –arguably with the intention of being wiped out completely – and amongst other equally as important contributors such as limitations of Religious and political freedom, this has led naturally to heavy unrest.

What makes its way into the public eye much less often, are the similar problems that are taking place in the North-western Xinjiang autonomous region right now. Clashes between Han Chinese and the Uighur minority of China’s largest region have been common for a number of years in recent times, caused by strikingly similar reasons to Tibet and resulting in strikingly similar problems.

The official line on relations between the ethnic groups of Xinjiang is that each lives in perfect harmony, all striving together for a better China. Considering some of the blatant discrimination towards Uighurs, this claim is more than questionable. In some towns, Uighurs are attacked simply for being Uighur. As a Muslim minority, the rules imposed by the city of Karamay to ban Muslim dress were most likely aimed at Uighurs.  In other towns, only the top Uighur students are allowed to study alongside Han students.

This discrimination, alongside the gradual disappearance of the native culture, has resulted in extreme unrest and violence. In 2009, Riots broke out in the regions capital, Urumqi. Official numbers claim 200 deaths and nearly 2000 injured in the violence. Just this year, 3 train stations across China were bombed, allegedly by a Uighur terrorist group. Even this week, a bomb killed 50 (recently marked up from 2 from the authority’s sources) in Luntai county.

Whether this violence is justified is a difficult question. Although peaceful protest should be the answer to solving the misunderstandings, this isn’t much of an option in China. Illham Tohti, a leading Uighur scholar from Beijing’s Minzu University has been sentenced this week to life imprisonment for voicing the plight of the Uighurs. He has been labelled a separatist by the authorities and accused of being involved with underground activist groups. If a respected, leading scholar in Beijing has no voice, then the people of Xinjiang have even less chance.

Many Uighur people want independence from China and wish for the region to be declared ‘East Turkistan’.  In the current world political climate, this nationalism could easily be misinterpreted. The Uighurs have no country of their own, so if their culture is wiped out in Xinjiang, it will be gone completely. The government dismisses the violence as ‘Muslim extremism’, when the desperate unrest is entirely a helpless, hopeless attempted defence of the Uighur way of life.

. The authority’s response to current violence has been to increase the military presence in Xinjiang (Urumqi is now dotted with soldiers and tanks, many of which point permanently towards Uighur public buildings). Anti-terror propaganda is being placed around cities and over Chinese social media. A year -long crackdown on ‘terrorism’ is now in effect across Xinjiang.

The problems in Xinjiang do appear to unfortunately be escalating currently, with many more major incidents being reported this year. Now that some of the alleged terrorism has spread to other provinces, an already uncertain ordeal has become even more so. As the problems escalate, tensions between the regions ethnic groups also are becoming more electrified. It is difficult to predict what will happen in Xinjiang’s foreseeable future, but one thing which is certain is that its current road is not a comfortable one.

 

 

 

 

The threat to journalism in the post-truth era


orginally posted at The Gryphon

It wouldn’t be an official Trump announcement without a light hint of outrage. This time it is journalists who had a lot to worry about. In his first press conference since becoming President-Elect – something he appears to have actively avoided until now – Trump blocked certain media groups from speaking. He accused them of cultivating ‘fake news’ and therefore should remain silent.

Trump’s stance is worrying. It shows a willingness to break unsaid rules and expectations regarding political transparency. It is also a direct attack on freedom of speech, that fundamental concept which the US claims to champion so vehemently.

Unfortunately there is popular fuel for his statement. ‘Fake news’ is becoming a norm, not an exception.  A woman in Germany, for example, reported a horrific attack carried out on a teenager by an asylum seeker. It came to light later that it never happened, but not before the fakes news had spread.

On the surface then, it may well look as if the President-Elect would be justified in denouncing fake news. The problem is that, to him, his critics are the creators of fake news. A word against Trump is not a truth. What is not ‘truth’ is now to be censored. If the alarm bells are not ringing yet, they should be.

When the President-Elect, soon to be one of the most powerful people in the world, can decide who can and cannot express their views, there is a distinct threat to freedom of the press. It is essential that all sides of debate are free to question, criticize and praise as they will, because it is fundamental to the transparency of a democracy. The powerful must be held to account and that becomes impossible when critical voices are silenced.

How does this case affect the rest of the world? It spreads. A meeting of the European parliament group ENF (Europe of Nations and Freedom) has already followed suit. The meeting, where right-populist leaders including Frauke Petry, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders attended, likewise denied entry to left-leaning news sources. Trump has set a new precedent.

Transparency is on the way out and with it comes the rise of actual fake news. A new website has opened called ‘hoaxmap’ which plots all recently discovered fake news stories across Germany and Austria (not yet for the UK, but perhaps the website will expand in the future). The map is completely covered. Whatever you think of the media, one of its main roles theoretically is to keep the leaders of the world in check. It cannot enforce, but it can raise awareness and encourage action. If the journalistic sphere becomes inundated with fake news it will become impossible to do so. Journalists will face more false leads and a permanent threat of being blocked from important events. At the same time people will lose total trust in the press.

The protocol governing political transparency exists for a reason. That transparency is necessary for our society to function properly. If any change was ever needed, it would be towards a more transparent system; not change in which the looking glass slowly frosts over.

By Timothy Van Gardingen