Fewer people, more trees? Examining the impact of rural depopulation on environmental functions of forests in Japan
Linas Didvalis (Vytautas Magnus University)
Paper short abstract:
By combining different scenarios of demographic change and current trends of national forest management policies, the paper seeks to evaluate how decrease in rural population in Japan may affect environmental functions of country's forests.
Paper long abstract:
With 70% of the territory covered by forests and continuously decreasing rural population during the past 20 years, Japan is a good case to explore both current and potential effects that depopulation can have on natural environment. More specifically, this paper focuses on impacts that depopulation has on Japan's forests, and seeks to evaluate a widespread yet controversial argument that decrease in human population is overall beneficial for the environment because it provides a variety of "depopulation dividends". The argument is examined by taking a combined rural and environmental studies approach and analysing short-term and long-term impacts of reduced human activity on forest ecosystems in Japan in terms of carbon sequestering, biodiversity, and soil and water conservation. The paper consists of three main parts. The first one discusses complicated relationship between depopulation and human impact to the natural environment, with special attention to forests and peculiar characteristics of human-forest interaction. The second part looks at changes of work force involved in forestry industry in Japan since 1945, and how fluctuation of human activity affected environmental functions of country's forests. The final part employs these lessons of the past to create a model of what we can expect to happen with forests in Japan when human involvement in forest management gradually diminishes in the upcoming decades. The paper applies existing research done by such scholars as Tomomichi Kato, Ayaka Kishimoto, Yuichi Yamaura and many others on carbon accumulation, belowground carbon allocation and biodiversity dispersion in different types of Japan's forests, as well as analysis of the effects of forest harvesting to soil erosion and water resources. This existing knowledge is combined with different scenarios of demographic change and current trends of national forest management policies to create projections how decrease in rural population may affect environmental functions of Japan's forests.
Environmental impacts of a shrinking population in Japan: towards a 'depopulation dividend'