Now that the impact of exacerbated climate change, reduced biodiversity, and depleted natural resources from rampant materialism is increasingly felt, how should we respond to real threats to our way of life through design? Rather than merely satisfying us here and now, this kind of design must contribute to establishing a society in balance with nature over the long term. It is a matter of defining what design is good for the future, which is especially relevant in the context of the “Global Environment / Energy” Focused Issue.
Climate change can be faced with two strategies – one of mitigation and another of adaptation. Through the former, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote ways to absorb emissions. Through the latter, we make the world more resilient to the damage of existing climate-related disasters. Understanding resiliency is easier if, instead of imagining hoisting up some kind of rigid shield against the elements, we envision design in society that helps us smoothly get back on our feet after disasters. Imagine a system of autonomous distributed infrastructure that keeps working even if some units are lost. Or gradually preparing a network that makes information widely available to enable individual action, educates people About what to do in emergencies, strengthens communities, and links districts.
As for curbing climate change, Japan has long pioneered this field, as by working to eliminate factory emissions and developing energy-efficient products. Many outstanding entries supporting this strategy were recognized with awards this year. In contrast, however, fewer examples of design can be cited that help us adapt to the impact of climate change. After much delay, the government is finally enacting some adaptation initiatives in 2015, which we hope will spur more projects and assessment in this field.
Signs of this can be seen in this year’s entries. Timed to coincide with greater liberalization of public utilities in 2016, a municipally funded company was established to buy and sell renewable energy supporting local production and consumption in a smart community in Miyama. This is the first such community building in Japan. Municipalities with their own energy infrastructure will transform consumption, turning it from an expense into a source of revenue. Profit can be invested in improving local life, as decided with input from residents. The project has already changed how officials and residents think About energy. Similarly, Toyota’s development for Mirai fuel cell vehicles extends beyond technological innovation to include supporting systems (such as infrastructure promoting a hydrogen-based society) and other advantages for society. Although this does not solve the root problem of relying on fossil fuels to produce hydrogen, Toshiba addresses this issue in a hydrogen-based autonomous energy supply system that shows how to break free from fossil fuels by using renewable energy to produce hydrogen. A solar battery from Panasonic illustrates how to shift our energy habits from consumption alone to a cycle that includes generating, storing, and using energy – which, if such generation and storage devices become common, also provides a little reassurance that people will be better prepared in power outages. What comes into view when we combine these ideas is a more resilient society from the standpoint of energy.
Although entries that may promote resiliency in community-building are still limited, they are evident in the more coherent community planned for Ishinomaki evacuees in Kawanokami, as well as the Bio Net Initiative that establishes biodiversity recovery as a guideline in condominium development.
A strong ally in adapting to climate change is education. Children who grow up with strong bonds to their community and to nature can one day be a positive force in regional development. This observation makes certain entries more noteworthy, such as a program in Nara that enables students to assemble their own desk and chair from local materials, and a student-inspired green seawall to protect coastal areas in Fukushima.
Design that helps us face environmental crises will require an accurate awareness of current realities (accounting for some uncertainty), sophisticated insight and good judgment in combining interdisciplinary expertise in innovative ways, and a positive, creative attitude. This expertise may still be limited to only a few entries reviewed this year, but we sense that people are steadily developing it.