Presenting research from three geographical contexts in Japan, this panel explores the potential for depopulation to assist in reversing environmental losses arising from economic development and population expansion.
It is commonly agreed that global population expansion, economic development, and urbanisation in combination have had a catastrophic impact on Earth's natural systems. Climate change is under way, and bio-diversity losses are accumulating into the world's Sixth Great Extinction. Nevertheless, the developed world is undergoing a profound demographic transition that may deliver a shrinking world population by century's end. This prompts some to believe that depopulation will contribute to reversing the Earth's recent environmental losses. It's a seductive logic, but is it true? Currently nearly all countries' populations are growing, and only a small number of countries have recently begun to shrink. Hence, there is little evidence available for testing these assumptions. Japan's population began to shrink in 2008, however more than half of its land area has been losing population since 1990. China, South Korea, Taiwan and others are expected to begin shrinking before 2030. Japan therefore offers fruitful insights into environmental processes from the perspectives of economic expansion and depopulation in the wider Asia-Pacific region. This panel will bring together scholars from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to ask: Does depopulation deliver positive environmental outcomes? Chaired by Peter Matanle from the University of Sheffield, UK, the panel will present research from three environmental contexts in Japan to examine the relationship between population change and environmental stability. Fernando Ortiz-Moya of the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China, will present on urban environmental policy and depopulation in Kitakyushu City; Peter Siegenthaler from Texas State University will present on depopulation and tourism development pressures on environmental systems in small towns in Nagano and Gifu Prefectures; and Linas Didvalis of Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, will talk about the impacts of depopulation on Japan's mountain forest environments. Julia Adeney Thomas from Notre Dame University, USA, will then discuss the three papers within the context of Japan's modern environmental history. Our hope is that the panel can use this opportunity in Lisbon as a springboard to growing our research group and developing a substantial contribution to world knowledge on environment and demography in the Asia-Pacific region.