By attending this Nature and Culture open class, I got to broaden my vision in terms of sustainability and environmental protection, especially from the small local scale in Japan. I’ll compare my reasons why I attended this class to the reflections throughout the course with focus on the final symposium on Commons to share my opinion on ecological ethics and to evaluate what I’ve gained from this experience.
Before I joined the class:
My friend Zen invited me to join this class. Personally, I’ve lived in the Japanese countryside for 3 years, so although I didn’t have a good command of Japanese language back then, I still got to learn a lot about Japanese agricultural culture. I was most impressed with how each prefecture really focuses on growing their well-known meibutsu food really well and really try to markets such specialty. For instance, I have a bias with Shinshu apples and I think they’re so tasty, especially when you can eat them freshly picked in Nagano prefecture. In Vietnam, my home country, we don’t really market specialized local products although a large part of the population still works in agriculture. I always want to know more about this, so this was the perfect opportunity for me since this class was offered in English but I’lll gain insights from the Japanese perspective.
Throughout the course and the final symposium:
I liked how we got to examine the famous speakers and different cases of nature and culture protection around the world a lot. I especially was impressed with the speech of the Bhutanese Prime Minister as he really cares about protecting his own country and people over economic goals. I also enjoyed how we have discussions and actively participated in class through discussions, and note taking as we listened to videos. The field trip was the most fun as we got the chance to meet welcoming locals from Yamagata who have a strong passion for farming. I find it so rare since I’ve not met passionate farmers since it’s a physically demanding job that doesn’t have the highest return for your efforts. It was inspiring to meet and see them spread such passions.
During the final symposium, I joined the group focused on Spirits for commons. Although in class we analyzed different opinions on commons based on theories by Garrett Hardin, or Elinor Ostrom, I think different countries take different positions on protecting the commons, either short-term private interests or shared protection for long-term community building based on different values and priorities each country holds. Personally, I interpret commons as natural resources of public accessibility that we inherit based on our locations and how we decide to preserve it is largely decided by authorities. It’s a shame that some authorities haven’t done sustainable resource preservation, but nowadays more and more people are talking about this topic of the environment and more awareness is raised throughout the world.
During the preparation stage for the symposium, I find backcasting and prediction a fun and novel process to gain fresh perspectives on topics. I was impressed with different approaches each group had with the topic and learned a lot more from each presentation: eg The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving The World by the UN is a very good resource for us to start doing small actions to preserve commons for future generations. In my group we talked about wildfires and conclude with an action towards preserving commons: veganism. Aino knew about how companies are responsible for these climate change and huge disastrous global problems; it was really nice that we share personal knowledge so we all know more about these facts and build a resourceful collective knowledge.
The OECD defines ecological ethics as moral principles governing the human attitude towards the environment, and rules of conduct for environmental care and preservation. It really overlaps with the big topic of commons, resources and environmental protection we’ve been discussing about this semester. It’s not a well-known term as I first heard about this in this class. I think this mindset has been more widespread recently as people start talking about reducing plastic consumption, replacing it with eco-friendly bags or reusable coffee cups, recycling and composting. But through this class I realized it could also mean supporting local farmers and using local resources, or small actions like cutting down our time in the shower through UN’s The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving The World. By cutting down small personal comfort and short-term private interests motivated by different reasons, eg. financial or economic ones, we need to look at the long-term picture for interests and benefits of future generations, our country, neighboring countries and the world as a whole so as to make wise decisions with regard to environmental protection. For instance Vietnam is facing a huge air pollution issue since everyone rides their own motorbikes. By reducing our carbon footprint with a simple act as replacing motorbikes with bikes, we will help not only our health but also help preserve a liveable environment for the long term. I believe it encompasses empathy and selflessness as well because resources are finite, and they are of public access, no one should have the right to make decisions that affect the world and people large scale.
After the class:
Besides new knowledges on commons and nature protection, I gained a lot of meaningful interpersonal relationships. From the welcoming local farmers and his family in Yamagata to the special bonds I’ve created in this class with our teachers and classmates, I can say I’ve found a small family who shares the same interests and concerns with me. I hope through small actions that we created together we can make an impact on our surroundings in Waseda, in Japan and in the world.
Van Anh Hoang