Waseda Frontline Research Feature Vol.20: Applying the power of economics to resolve environmental issues (Part 2 of 2)

Environmental Economist
Toshihide Arimura, Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics

Part 2: Efforts to solve the problem of “indoor air pollution” in developing countries

Toshihide Arimura is a Professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics. One new area of research he is undertaking is the “analysis of indoor air pollution in developing countries”. Professor Toshihide is presently trying to conduct a social experiment aimed at changing the behavior of people in developing countries to solve the problem of indoor air pollution, one that claims the lives of 6,500,000 people around the world each year and contributes to reduction in quality of life (QOL). Following is an interview with Professor Arimura to discuss the background behind this research that focuses on interaction with society. I also asked Professor Arimura, an academic who has conducted research at a variety of universities and research institutions, about his impressions of Waseda University. (Date of interview: December 08, 2017)

Examining why “people can’t leave behind the tradition of using firewood as source of fuel”

Below I would like to introduce research into “analysis of indoor air pollution in developing countries”, an area of research we have started recently.

Developing countries currently face a serious problem in which pollution of the air inside the homes of people is affecting their health and wellbeing. This problem has been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2006 and more recently in June 2016, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that 3,500,000 people around the world die each year from indoor air pollution.

One of the primary causes of indoor air pollution is the “burning of firewood” for the purpose of cooking, etc. This behavior is widespread in developing countries, filling rooms with smoke and the death rate of infants is particularly high.

In response to this problem, I am attempting to analyze “why the use of clean energy is not spreading in regions around the world faced with the problem of indoor air pollution” and “what kind of products and information can be provided to change the behavior of people in order to devise a solution”. I was informed by a student from Bhutan studying in my research office that despite the fact that electricity is practically free in agricultural areas of Bhutan, the use of electric cooking appliances is low. Based on this information, and due to the fact that there are international students from Bhutan and India at the university, I thought of conducting a study in India.

I had already been conducting research into energy conservation. The focus of this research was how to best disseminate information to the general public. Back when Yuriko Koike was Minister for the Environment, she introduced the “Cool Biz” campaign and a large number of people adopted the habit of going to work without a business jacket during the summer months in Japan. On the other hand, people showed little interest in information pointing out that they could conserve energy by buying a new, more energy efficient refrigerator and a large number of people continued using outdated models. The kind of information and how it is presented to the general public can have the effect of changing people’s behavior, or alternately have no effect at all.

For many years, economists have believed that consumers were rational and that people armed with complete information were better at making informed decisions. However, in reality this is not always the case. More recently, economists have started to focus more on understanding how decisions are made based on reality or real life. This reasoning has formed the backdrop to my current research.

Photo: Professor Toshihide Arimura has his sights set on the world

Working towards the realization of healthy living

My research into indoor air pollution is currently focused on analysis based on data collected from students from my research office sent to India to examine what people are using as sources of fuel and how many people are making the switch from firewood to gas, etc.

Photo: The use of firewood in a standard home in an agricultural region of India.

I am also considering taking electric cooking appliances to Bhutan in order to conduct a social experiment to see whether the local people would be willing to use them. If we can do this, I am also considering taking warm clothes, such as the heattech range from Uniqlo, to see if the local people would wear it. This is based on the reasoning that if people continue to use firewood to combat the cold of the winter months, they could move away from this lifestyle if they were to wear warmer clothes.

“Coordination” will form a particularly important element of this social experiment. It will be necessary to overcome one obstacle at a time, such as how we will get the cooking appliances to Bhutan, how we will acquire the measuring equipment necessary to measure the level of indoor air pollution and convincing the local people to allow us to take these measurements in their homes, etc. In terms of scale, it will be necessary to obtain the cooperation of approximately 500 households in order to perform an accurate statistical analysis. Teachers and students from the local area with whom we are conducting the research are enthusiastic so it would be good to be able to bring this plan to fruition.

A lifestyle that relies upon firewood not only results in indoor air pollution, the children tasked with collecting the firewood also experience considerable hardship and women are required to spend six hours preparing meals. I feel that the results of this research will not only lead to healthier lifestyles, but also contribute to improving quality of life (QOL).

The pursuit of a career in the history of science and environmental economics inspired by Einstein

From 6th grade in elementary school, I wanted to be Einstein and as a result, pursued a career in science in order to become a physicist. However, upon learning the seriousness of a range of environmental issues, including global warming in my university courses, I decided to pursue a career that focused more on the environment. In particular, when I learned how incorrect theories offered by scientists had contributed to delaying efforts to resolve the problem of Minamata disease, I started to take an interest in the social responsibility of scientists and pursued studies in the history of science.

At the time, I had no intention of pursuing post graduate studies and received an offer of employment from a newspaper in order to pursue environmental issues as a journalist. However, upon hearing a talk presented by the late Tsuneyuki Morita (1950-2003) from the National Institute for Environmental Studies on the topic of what is happening “now” in the real world during one of my classes on environmental economics that I just happened to be taking at the time, I was drawn in by and saw his view of solving environment issues from an economic perspective to be fresh and innovative. While my father, one of old-fashioned values, seriously opposed my decision, I refused the offer of employment from the newspaper and went to study environmental sciences at the University of Tsukuba. Wanting to study economics in more depth, I then studied overseas at the University of Minnesota to earn my Ph.D. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject of the emissions trading scheme for sulfur dioxide introduced in the United States, marking the start of my journey as an environmental economist.

Transforming the Research Institute for Environmental Economics and Management into a hub for joint research

I also serve as Director of the Research Institute for Environmental Economics and Management at Waseda University. I have come to realize that having a research institute allows researchers in the same field to come together, creating a synergy effect. The reason being, we are constantly sharing the details of our research.

We also have more contact with overseas researchers. We currently have a female researcher from the Arizona State University working together on joint research with us on the theme of “green procurement”, focusing on the selection of products procured by the government and organizations that have less impact on the environment.

I feel great potential for the Research Institute for Environmental Economics and Management to serve as a hub for international cooperation and joint research.

Photo: Research Institute for Environmental Economics and Management, Waseda University webpage. The Research Institute is comprised of 13 researchers from the Faculty of Political Science and Economics, the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Commerce.

Waseda University students posses a sense of “diversity” and “energy”

I am now involved in research at Waseda University having spent time researching at the University of Tsukuba and in the United States and I feel that Waseda University has extensive systems available to support the enthusiastic endeavors of its researchers. These include a variety of measures to ensure researchers that have obtained large research grants can dedicate themselves to their research and systems to provide support in the form of additional human resources when they are selected as “Next-Generation Core Researchers” as part of a program run by Waseda University.

The administrative role played by the Waseda University Academic Solutions Corporation, an entity set up to support university management, etc. is also significant. Although there were times I applied for urgent funding for research into Japan’s carbon pricing, I found the staff there to be extremely supportive, despite the tight deadlines for my research, enabling me to obtain the necessary budget.

Photo: Seminar for fourth-year students

I feel a strong sense of “diversity” among the students at Waseda University. The student body at Waseda Diversity is really diverse, ranging from extremely serious, studious students, to students who interact with faculty members without sign of hesitation or timidness and a mix of international students from overseas. They also have a sense of “energy”. Students are often required to head out into the mountains or conduct interviews with local government officials when collecting data on the environment. However, they show no sign of reluctance or objection and are always enthusiastic about whatever it is they are doing.

I believe that efforts aimed at solving global environmental issues will take on greater significance in the years to come. Environmental economics can contribute to creating a better society and it is my hope that studies in this field are pursued by students with ambition and drive, such as those at Waseda University.

 

☞Click here for Part 1

 

Profile

Toshihide Arimura

After obtaining his B.A. at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, the University of Tokyo and his M.S. in Environmental Sciences at the University of Tsukuba, Toshihide completed a doctoral degree in Economics at the University of Minnesota, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2000. In the time following, Toshihide served as Assistant Professor at Sophia University, Department of Economics and Part-time Lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, Waseda University, while also serving as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Economic and Social Research Center, Executive Director of the Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies and as Visiting Research Fellow at Resources for the Future (Abe Fellow), and so on. From 2012 to present, Toshihide has served as Professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University. A long list of publications includes “The Frontier of Environmental Economics” (Nippon Hyoronsha) and co-author of “Introduction to Environmental Economics” (Chuokoron-Shinsha). Toshihide also plays an integral role at the Research Institute for Environmental Economics and Management, Waseda University.

Major research achievements

Journal articles

Publications

  • 「環境経済学のフロンティア」日本評論社(2017年) 有村俊秀・片山東・松本茂編著
  • “An Evaluation of Japanese Environmental Regulations –Quantitative Approaches from Environmental Economics-“ Springer (2015) Toshi. H. Arimura・Kazuyuki Iwata
  • 「温暖化対策の新しい排出削減メカニズム :二国間クレジット制度を中心とした経済分析と展望」日本評論社(早稲田大学現代政治経済研究所研究叢書41)(2015年)有村俊秀編
  • 「地球温暖化対策と国際貿易-排出量取引と国境調整措置をめぐる経済学・法学的分析」東京大学出版会(2012)pp.1-312、有村俊秀・蓬田守弘・川瀬剛志編
  • 「排出量取引と省エネルギーの経済分析:日本企業と家計の現状」日本評論社(2012)有村俊秀・武田史郎編著
  • 「環境規制の政策評価-環境経済学の定量的アプローチ-」SUP上智大学出版/ぎょうせい(2011)有村俊秀・岩田和之
  • 「入門環境経済学~環境問題解決へのアプローチ」中央公論新社(2002)日引聡・有村俊秀

Editorial and lecture materials for the general public

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