Brendan F. D. Barrett
Sustainability; human and natural systems; complexity; population; Industrial Revolution; Meiji Restoration; rural societies; industrialisation; pollution; urban; social movements; human rights.
The pursuit of environmental sustainability implies dramatic transformation of modern society in order to bring about a more benign interaction between human and natural systems. It is now widely recognized that this paradigm shift would require the restructuring of society in order to deal with increasingly complex environmental problems and the current high rates at which natural resources are being depleted. These changes need to be made quickly, say within the next 50 years, since the worlds population in 2050 would be between 10 and 12 billion.
Examples of breathtakingly rapid societal change in the past include the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom and the Meiji Restoration in Japan. The direction of change, however, was a move away from the relatively close (though not necessarily harmonious) relationship between humans and nature found in rural societies to one characterized by distance and isolation in the new factories and industrial towns. Meanwhile, pollution problems, which have always been associated with urbanity, became more widespread and intensified.
Related to this, the notions of environmentalism began to take shape in both countries during these periods. In the United Kingdom, the roots of environmentalism are intertwined with the Romantic Movement that sought to conserve the natural beauty of the land and cultural heritage of the nation. In Japan, the Meiji Restoration witnessed the emergence of new social movements backed by intellectuals fighting for popular rights and against development.
(1999) 7(4) Sustainable Development, 178-190.