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Open Letter 3-5

Unpublished letter

The brain used energy to create “extra time”

Why has humankind increased its energy consumption? As we have seen, humanity has dramatically increased its energy consumption through five stages of the energy revolution, beginning with the use of fire. In fact, I believe that each of these processes has something in common. The key word is “time reduction.

The use of fire, the first energy revolution, reduced the amount of time spent chewing food in the form of “cooking”. Chimpanzees in the wild devote more than six hours a day to chewing food. For us, a total of two hours is enough time for three meals. Having succeeded in reducing the amount of time spent eating, humans can now effectively use that time to weave clothes and make tools.

The second energy revolution, the transition to an agrarian lifestyle, created a surplus of food, which created a ruling class of society not engaged in food production and a class of artisans with special skills, such as metallurgy. The transition to an agrarian lifestyle has led to a reduction in the amount of time spent on food production in society as a whole. By concentrating agricultural work on a few people, the free time gained by others became the driving force behind the rise of civilization.

The invention of the steam engine, the third energy revolution, was the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution and opened the door to the energy-intensive society that exists today. Steam engines worked dozens of times harder than people, oxen, and horses, and they never rested when they were tired. Naturally, people worked hard to improve machines that never complained no matter how hard they were used.

The fourth energy revolution, the use of electricity, broke down the barriers of distance. Telecommunications technology, famous for Morse code, took the world by storm in the mid-19th century as a means of high-speed information transmission, and telegraph lines were laid competitively along railroad lines in various regions. Telecommunications technology has continued to evolve since then, and together with the development of information processing technology represented by computers, it continues to play a central role in information communication networks such as television broadcasting, cell phones, and Internet technology in modern society.

The invention of artificial fertilizers, the fifth energy revolution, shattered the limitations on the supply of nitrogen to living organisms set by nature. With the invention of the Haber-Bosch process, mankind had the means to realize a massive increase in food production, and one after another, the industrialization of agriculture was promoted to increase the efficiency of agricultural production. Today, only 1.3% of the population of the United States is employed in agriculture. In addition, the time required to produce meat, such as beef cattle, has been dramatically shortened by the availability of large quantities of nutritious corn at low cost. As a result, the total time humans spend on food production has become less and less. The extra time created is the driving force behind the development of new industries such as the information and communication industry.

Let’s organize the past activities of humankind. What has been the goal of mankind throughout history? I think it is “saving time. In other words, it is a history of finding value in “how much work can be done in a short period of time. Humans have acted in a way that prioritizes the brain’s desire to freely use energy for a variety of activities. We routinely seek to achieve great results with little physical exertion. The human brain’s endless desire to acquire energy has resulted in the speeding up of time.

How should we deal with time?

What we should be keenly aware of now is how we can break free from the brain-driven way of thinking and realize a comprehensive way of thinking that is in tune with the body. If we listen to the voice of our own body and ask questions of our deepest psyche, it will not be impossible to change our lifestyle habits that will speed up the flow of time. Adjusting the pace of time in society as a whole may not be easy, but it is not impossible at all.

For a complex issue such as the energy problem, where the state of society is being questioned, things will not be solved by beating the world over the head with black and white questions. In order to solve the energy problem, we should all think about raising awareness of the silent voice of the body, centered on the issue of time perception by the human brain, and changing the norm for individuals and society, even if only gradually. It is not easy to reduce energy consumption in a society that sees the positive value in turning the hands of the clock faster. Perhaps we need to build a society in which we can find positive value in walking a little slower.

Dualism and Justice

In today’s energy debate, it is sometimes argued that if carbon dioxide emissions cannot be kept below a certain level, the world will die. Such extreme statements evoke doomsday scenarios and undermine the perception of steady effort. Over-simplifying and over-stimulating the crisis can lead to problems that are far from being solved.

Just as our society is multidimensional and complex, made up of people from various backgrounds and perspectives, the global environment is also multidimensional and complex, and is not as simple as conventional dualism would have us believe. If you see someone trying to make everything black and white in a discussion of energy issues, saying this is good and that is bad, you should be skeptical of that person’s argument. The answer to any question dealing with nature is usually found in the infinite range of colors between black and white.

Capitalism and Energy

After experiencing the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, human society emerged from the long economic stagnation of the Middle Ages. We entered a new era of sustained economic growth in which the wealth created was reinvested to create even more wealth. The era of capitalism has arrived. Decision-making in economic activities in a capitalist society will be based on economic rationality. Economic rationality is a state of affairs that is considered profitable when judged according to economic value criteria. Generally, when a for-profit company makes an investment decision, the decision is based on this economic rationality.

From the 17th century onward, the increasingly free human mind, having seized its freedom as an individual, consequently lost the foothold to secure its own position and became strongly influenced by the unspoken rules that encompassed the entire society. Today, it is capitalism that sets those rules. Whether we like it or not, we live in a modern society under capitalism that has spread to the entire globe. In order to live a stable life, we need to follow the rules of capitalism, and this has come to have a great influence on our minds and decision making. This meant, in a way, enslavement to a new god, “capital,” whose supremacy is economic growth.

The energy problems that pervade modern society are a product of the economic activities of humankind. And the economic activities of humankind in today’s society are shaped by capitalism, which pursues economic rationality. Therefore, in order to unravel the energy problem, it is effective to analyze the relationship between human economic activities and energy by adopting the perspective of economics.

However, energy issues are generally very incompatible with economics, which deals with economic activities. This is not only because energy issues are closely related to environmental issues such as climate change. To begin with, it is not easy to accurately analyze energy from an economic perspective.

Decisions in economic activities in today’s society are largely based on economic rationality. This is a perfectly natural way to carry out economic activities. There is an important prerequisite for the correct operation of this system. That is, that there is sufficient information to make decisions and that it is correct. In the energy debate, however, it is quite difficult to accurately capture this point. Hence, economics and energy are inevitably incompatible.

James Watt’s other great invention.

During this period, improvements in steam engines made it possible to extract energy more efficiently, but it was not easy to measure the return on investment of installing a steam engine. This was because there was no established method for measuring the capacity of steam engines.

James Watt not only invented the practical steam engine, he also devised a unit to measure the ability of a steam engine to do the work it does. That is the horsepower. This unit was defined based on the amount of work done per unit of time by a standard draft horse. Watt made his fortune by inventing the high-output, practical steam engine, and one of the reasons for his success was that he also created a unit to measure work capacity, the horsepower. This made it possible to “visualize” the amount of work done by a steam engine and to calculate the return on investment in a steam engine compared to keeping horses.

The poor can’t afford manners (Only when basic needs for living are met can people spare the effort to be polite)

In the era when Watt was active, investment decisions for power machinery such as steam engines were based solely on the cost-effectiveness of the machine’s energy output. Pollution problems, such as soot and smoke generated by operating machines, were outside the calculations of economic rationality and were not taken into consideration. As a result, while the factory owners who operated the machines made sufficient profits, the surrounding air was polluted and the pollution became more and more serious. In economic terms, this situation is called “external diseconomies.”

In light of the worsening pollution caused by “external diseconomies,” human societies eventually began to take action. The installation of soot remediation equipment became mandatory by law, and the cost of pollution control was incorporated into the calculation of economic rationality. In economics, this is called “internalization.”

This is an extremely reasonable and correct course of action. It is one of the most effective ideas that humanity has developed to improve society. It is important to note, however, that “internalization” is not an unconditional process. “Internalization” can only be realized if the technology that enables pollution control has been developed and if the overall investment is economically rational, even if the cost of introducing the technology is “internalized”.

Individuals and societies that are so occupied with making ends meet will have little incentive to invest in environmental measures, but individuals and societies with sufficient income and a surplus can afford to invest in the environment. In short, it is a matter of “Only when basic needs for living are met can people spare the effort to be polite.”

Taken from the reference URL(

This phenomenon is known in economics as the environmental Kuznets curve. It takes the degree of economic development on the horizontal axis and the degree of environmental burden on the vertical axis. Until per capita income reaches a certain level, the environmental burden worsens. However, once the environmental burden reaches a certain level, it gradually improves, forming an inverted U-shaped curve. It is true that the environment has improved as the scale of the economy has increased and the development of environmental technologies has been promoted, especially in developed countries.

The mood is depressing when we consider the energy problems of our time. There are debates about the ultra-long term storage of high-level radioactive waste, carbon dioxide emissions, and other issues that extend far beyond a person’s lifetime. Can we even properly evaluate the environmental problems of projects that extend to the global environment and incorporate them into calculations of economic rationality?

In the global energy debate, to what extent is it fair to internalize the costs of environmental measures? It is not easy to reach a multilateral consensus on how the costs of internalization should be estimated, and the debate often turns contentious. Moreover, the division of the legal framework for internalizing environmental measures into administrative units, mainly the national government, makes it difficult. The development of the economy and the globalization of issues related to environmental burdens have made it very difficult to solve problems that have now become global in scale. This is because these problems will not be solved unless the entire world establishes and adheres to common rules.

In this light, it seems that there are no dreams or hopes for the future of humankind unless a one-world government is established. Is such a society really feasible? Or will we have no choice but to let the momentum of capitalism take us to the end of the road like a kite with a broken string?

Characteristics of the God called Capital

Whether we want it or not, the god of capital rules the world in the capitalist society to which we belong. The “god of capital” teaches only that “economic growth will save everything. The “god of capital” in today’s society boldly promises prosperity in this life and shows no signs of anxiety. All that is required of us is to believe that the economy will continue to grow. Then merit will be gained in this life.

There is no next life in the “divine teaching of capital.” There is no looking back to the past, as all the money, effort, and time spent to date are sunk costs. All we believe in is the present and the future that lies ahead, where we are sure to grow.

It is only since the Industrial Revolution, which is only a couple of hundred years old, that this “ever-growing economy” brought about by the “god of capital” has become the norm in the world. The god of capital that descended during the Industrial Revolution was a completely new existence for mankind. It did not bow down to the natural world at all. He solved one by one with the power of capital all the outbreaks of starvation and the spread of pestilence that had afflicted mankind up to that time, and showed us the realization of a paradise in this world.

The “god of capital” had another major characteristic not found in previous deities. That is, the power of the “god of capital” increases as the economy continues to grow and grows in size. And the “god of capital” becomes even more powerful as it gains experience and is trained.

The “god of capital” first descended upon England during the Industrial Revolution and second upon the United States. In both societies, there was a fair amount of people who had accumulated a certain amount of wealth that made new investments possible. In addition, the systems of private property, including the patent system, were well developed, and a mechanism was in place to recover the cost of the upfront investment in the invention and development of new devices.

If there had been no effective patent system in place at that time, no one would have funded the research and development of James Watt, who was only a mechanical engineer, and his steam engine would never have been introduced to the world. With the advent of a society capable of mass consumption of energy and sustained economic growth, the “god of capital” was able to fully demonstrate his ability to learn and further strengthen his abilities, becoming a widely accepted presence in society.

In this way, the “god of capital” is an incarnation of energy that grows by absorbing energy one after another, a kind of monster. In short, the “god of capital” is the dissipative structure itself. When we realize that the true nature of the “god of capital” is a dissipative structure, we realize that even the seemingly strongest “god of capital” has a weakness. When economic growth slows down and the supply of energy becomes limited, the structure becomes unsustainable and collapses at the drop of a hat. Therefore, the “god of capital” continues to ask us human beings to continue the cycle of investment, believing that economic growth will be sustained.

The “god of capital” preached “Believe in economic growth,” but he also prescribed a new commandment to be observed in order to accumulate merit. It is “Be diligent in making money.” This is also a completely new precept that had never existed in human society before. Motivating such a change was the birth of Protestantism, a new religious denomination that emerged from the Reformation movement that began in the 16th century as a reaction against the Catholic Church. Among those called Protestants, Calvinists and Puritans were particularly ascetic. By extending their ascetic lifestyle to the secular world, they contributed to the creation of norms that were consequently most compatible with capitalist society.

They admonished against wasteful spending and regarded diligence as a virtue. They also positively affirmed the increase in wealth that resulted from such efforts. They regarded wealth as the reward for contributing to society and as the result of practicing love of neighbor. In particular, Calvinists believed in the predestination theory that the person who would be saved at the final judgment was predetermined. They believed that the only way to show that they were valuable to God was to create more wealth through ascetic labor, and this was the means by which they became convinced that they were predestined to be saved. This led them to be even more ascetic about making money.

The “god of capital,” which did not yet have the power to be called a god, grew driven by the emergence of new believers who led a life centered on hard work and frugality, and who regarded maximizing lifetime income as their ethical obligation. As wealth accumulated in society, the “god of capital” grew in power, eventually taking over their belief system and acting as if he himself were a god.

How to make the most of humanity’s “visionary abilities”

Canadian biologist David Suzuki says that “visionary abilities” has propelled humans to a dominant position in the biological world. We possess a uniquely brilliant brain. With the power of our brains, we created something called “time. And instead of living haphazardly in the flow of time, we are now able to take a bird’s eye view of the future and plan our actions based on our past experience and knowledge.

Although it is difficult to say that solutions have been found at this point, the existence of environmental problems, such as climate change, is widely shared and recognized by human society. The current situation, which at first glance appears to be full of problems, is in fact a testament to the “foresight” of humankind. Humanity has moved forward by recognizing problems and solving them. As long as we have this ability, there is no need to be overly pessimistic about the future. A world where people feel that nothing is wrong in their daily lives may be more dangerous to humanity. We should have more confidence. So, how should we exercise our own “foresight” in acknowledging the energy problems that lie ahead in today’s society?

Humbaba revived in modern times

Here we are reminded once again of the story of Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The people who lived in ancient Mesopotamia could not stop cutting down trees, even though they knew that the loss of forests in the upper reaches of the river would cause salty sediment to run off and accumulate in the cultivated land downstream, eventually rendering the land unusable. The history of these ancient civilizations is in fact exactly the same story as the crisis facing modern civilization, which is feared to be losing land eventually due to climate change caused by the continued mass consumption of fossil fuels.

In recent years, large-scale wildfires and floods have become more frequent in many parts of the world. Japan is no exception, with more and more heavy rains and heat waves, and it is no longer unusual to hear the words “once in 50 years” or “for the first time in recorded history” in the news these days.

We are all beginning to share a firsthand sense that the climate is changing. Will we once again smash Humbaba, who has risen in our time as the protector of the global environment we now have, with the axe of an increasingly sharp civilization? Or will we be able to coexist with Humbaba this time? The answer to the question of what is the most important issue that humankind should seriously address is now clear. We must put aside our doubts and move forward.

Despite the recent uproar over the coronas, which resulted in a simultaneous global shutdown of economic activity to the point of almost suffocation, it became clear that the resulting reduction in carbon dioxide emissions was nowhere near the level required by the Paris Agreement.

In the current outbreak of infection, the movement of people around the world began to stop around mid-February 2020, and on March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the situation as equivalent to a pandemic. The outbreak continued to spread, leading to an unprecedented global economic shutdown in April and May, when more than 90% of global passenger air travel demand was lost.

According to a report compiled in September 2020 by the World Meteorology and Climate (WMO) under the leadership of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in cooperation with relevant organizations around the world, estimated daily carbon dioxide emissions in early April 2020, when the global economy came to a near standstill, fell 17% compared to the daily average of the previous year This is a decrease of unprecedented scale. This is an unprecedented reduction in emissions on a scale never seen before, and it is calculated to have reduced the daily discharge to a level equivalent to that of 2006.

However, in order to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of a 2°C reduction, CO2 emissions in 2050 must be reduced from 30 billion tons per year in 2006 to 10 billion tons per year, or one-third of the 2006 level. In other words, the recent outbreak of infections has once again confirmed that it will not be possible to achieve the CO2 emission reduction target with ordinary efforts.

Recently, there is a tendency to believe that wasteful spending is acceptable because it leads to stimulating economic activity. This is the very supremacy of economic growth that allows the “god of capital” to run amok, and it seriously lacks the balance between environmental protection and economic growth. Moreover, it is not in the spirit of the original capitalism. The original spirit of capitalism, as Max Weber explained in detail, was the creation of wealth through the virtues of hard work and frugality that ascetic proletarianism possessed.

Frugality was originally an important component of capitalism, along with hard work. In fact, thrift is extremely effective. Some people even count thrift as a source of energy. We need to use things carefully and for a long time, turn off lights and air conditioners in rooms we don’t use, and eliminate leftovers. Simply by reducing wasteful spending like these, we are making a substantial contribution to reducing energy consumption. Of course, frugality doesn’t always make everything work, and you may feel trapped if you overdo it.

Still, there is no doubt that thrift is one of the key words for the coming age. The Japanese language has a wonderful word for these times. It is the word “mottainai” (“mottainai” in Japanese). Wangari Maathai of Kenya, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, popularized it worldwide. In a sense, the word “mottainai,” which has been rediscovered by the Japanese, is a very human word. That is the good part.

 “Mottainai” encourages us to practice frugality in a very natural way, without taking it too seriously as a way to protect the environment. In order to change the state of modern society, which is based on the mass consumption of energy, it is equally important to have not only a big mechanism to force the brain to change its mind through a philosophical discussion, but also a small mechanism that anyone can do easily and naturally to get the body moving.

The words “give and take” and “mottainai” used in everyday life have great potential to advance environmental protection.

Humans are the one and only beings who have risen to civilization through the accumulation of wisdom and created a huge dissipative structure. And mankind has the “visionary abilities.” Finding and improving issues is what humanity is best at. We now live in a society with a huge dissipative structure based on the massive use of energy. We are all aware of its advantages, disadvantages, and challenges. If we know it, all we have to do is to keep trying to improve it.

Continue to Open Letter 3-6