Monday, September 26, 2011


From yesterday's New York Times:
After a long, hot and dark summer in Japan, the days are cooler and the nights are brighter. For this the Japanese can give thanks not just to September, but also to setsuden, or “energy saving,” an ambitious and strikingly successful campaign to conserve electricity after the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear-plant disasters.
The destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi plant led Japan to shut down all but 15 of its 54 nuclear reactors. This was a huge blow to a country that depends heavily on nuclear power and has made scant investments in renewable energy. As summer approached, the only way to avoid a national energy emergency was through drastic conservation. And so the Japanese powered down.
And boy, power down they did.

One of the first things I noticed when I got into Tokyo was how dark everything seemed to be. Complete contrast from the sea of neon lights I was expecting. Other than the necessary street lights and a few lights in buildings here and there, everything else was shut off.

In my office building there's a bank of 4 elevators. Two had permanently been closed while next to the other two there was a sign politely asking you to take the stairs if you could help it. Generally if people had to go up 3 stories or less, they'd take the stairs. And on the way down almost everybody took the stairs. Since it's only a 6 story building, it didn't require that much effort.

The thermostat in the building was turned up and air conditioning hours were reduced.  To accommodate this the suit-and-tie dress code was relaxed. Most hallway lights were turned off. The kitchen light stayed off unless you needed to use it.  On the ceiling, alternate rows of tube lights had been turned off. In fact, not just turned off, in some areas building maintenance had come and physically removed them so that you couldn't even be tempted to turn them on. People were also asked to come in to work early and finish early, thereby reducing the need to have lights turned on in the evening.

In most train stations and department stores, down escalators had been turned off. If you wanted to you could still take the elevator in cases where you had a lot of bags to carry. This would usually involve a bit of a detour to get to the elevator, but I suppose on the list of inconveniences this would be pretty minor.

The diligence with which all this was done was simply amazing to observe. And it wasn't all just because there were government directives you had to follow or because people wanted to avoid having to go through blackouts or load-shedding. You got the feeling that Tokyoites were doing this because it was a way for them to show solidarity with their compatriots in the Tohoku region. Tokyo itself received very little damage from the earthquake and since it sits in a bay there were no tsunami fears either. So relatively speaking people's lives here had hardly been disrupted other than the initial shock and aftermath. Taking part in the setsuden campaign then was a way for them to sacrifice a little and share in the misfortune of millions of people in the northeast.

Most of these steps are things that would seem to be common sense. They don't really require one to give up all that much. But with everyone chipping in just a little bit, collectively it has had a huge impact.


Haiya said...

Wow! So envy the Japanese for their dedication to their country and cause! Wish we would do the same in Pakistan.

Shahir said...

Thanks for the comment Haiya. Yeah it truly is admirable.

People in Pakistan have also shown they can come together in troubled times. Both in floods this year and the last, as well as the 2005 earthquake. If only we also had good leadership to go along with this.