If Astoria's expensive and inconvenient combined sewer overflow project is a good example of a municipality walking the walk when it comes to living with the world, Japan continues to disappoint in terms of responsible global citizenship.

The island nation has long been famous for preserving its own woods while rapaciously buying up forest resources in developing nations like Indonesia, where local officials are anxious to dispose of ancient trees to turn a quick profit.

Japanese fisheries exploitation is similarly blind to harmful long-term consequences. It is most often in the news for violent run-ins with whale protectors. Though over-the-top whale activists are not immediately sympathetic figures, Japanese whaling under the thin pretext of scientific research is both infuriating and ludicrous.

More recently, the Japanese managed to warp international conservation efforts by manipulating a vote at the meeting of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Japanese managed to torpedo protections for bluefin tuna, which are being fished to the edge of extinction in many of the globe's waters.

These tuna are expensive delicacies in Japan, sometimes selling for tens of thousands of dollars each. But beyond their immediate economic importance, the Japanese are drawing a line in the sand over bluefin in order to make a point about CITES and how they perceive it to be an excessive inflexible conservation tool.

They have a point. CITES continues, for example, to zealously protect some African elephant herds from the ivory trade long after they have recovered to sustainable numbers. It can even be argued that some whale species are sufficiently recovered to justify a limited and well-designed harvest.

But past actions and present heavy-handed political maneuvers undercut Japanese credibility. In last month's CITES vote, for instance, Japanese rigged the vote by flying in African delegates whose support had been assured via Japanese "capacity building" efforts - project financing.

There's nothing like having 336 people per square kilometer - compared to 46 worldwide and 32 in the U.S. - to make a nation like Japan work hard to line up external resources. Other nations can be understanding about this and work to make CITES more flexible and realistic.

For its part, Japan must take on more global conservation responsibilities, as should America. All we nations that use more than our fair share of resources owe a special duty to do our part to keep our impacts within our own borders.

 

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