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Burning Bright in Japan

Associates work toward a sustainable future with the Carbon Minus Project

Posted on 12/29/2015 12:01:00 PM in The Buzz

Around the world, concerns about the impact of climate change on local life have started to merit responses in all corners, from the greatest superpowers to the smallest villages. One especially compelling example is the Carbon Minus Project in Kameoka City, Japan. One morning this year, 33 OAT Trip Experience Leaders and 6 regional associates volunteered with the project and helped to make a difference.

Forty percent of Japan is what is known as satoyama: “secondary nature” land where farmers grow crops, harvest some of it, and then let the land rest to restore itself. This sustainable living model has been in practice since the 17th century, with rural farm families leading the way. But corporate farm interests have cut into the local markets so heavily that there was a nearly 70% decrease in the number of family farms from 1970 to 2000.

In 2009, a local farmer’s co-op came up with an idea to differentiate their produce from big agriculture, while also helping to combat climate change. Instead of the common carbon-releasing fertilizers, they started growing vegetables in chemical-free biochar: coal briquettes made from bamboo, which is so abundant and easily replenished in the satoyama. The produce was labeled “cool vegetables,” and touted as both organic and climate-positive.

This approach, in which the bio char absorbs carbon dioxide, made it possible to offset a third of the city’s yearly CO2 emissions, and earn the city $6 million in carbon credits. But the plan’s success was dependent on consumers choosing to buy the products—which they did. The idea caught on and Cool Vegetables are now very popular.

To help the Carbon Minus Project team keep up with demand, the OAT volunteers spent a morning cutting bamboo, burning it in a kiln, and making the bio charcoals. They also harvested radishes and carrots from the field, and later refreshed themselves with pure newly-squeezed carrot juice.

Elaine Yau, OAT’s Regional General Manager in North Asia organized the event, which she found truly rewarding: “Through this experience, we were able to recognize and tackle the problems of global warming as our individual responsibility and as a community. This only deepened our relationship with the people of Kameoka.” They left knowing the city—and our world—was a little bit better off thanks to their efforts.

Learn about Japan’s vibrant traditions and bright future with OAT during Japan’s Cultural Treasures. You can glimpse one of the country’s most cherished—and complex—traditions, the tea ceremony, in this brief film:

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