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Tokyo's Cantankerous Boss Takes On Global Warming

Shintaro Ishihara, 75, an outspoken nationalist and three-term governor of Tokyo, has pushed for mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions in Japan's largest city in an effort to fight climate change.
Shintaro Ishihara, 75, an outspoken nationalist and three-term governor of Tokyo, has pushed for mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions in Japan's largest city in an effort to fight climate change. (By Blaine Harden -- The Washington Post)
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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 18, 2008

TOKYO -- In a long, fabulous and cranky life, Shintaro Ishihara, the three-term governor of Tokyo, has specialized in the art of giving offense.

The 75-year-old novelist, yachtsman, North Pole adventurer, theatrical director, nationalist fulminator and big-city boss has exuberantly offended women, immigrants, animal lovers, Africans and the French, as well as countless Asians whose nations were brutalized by Japan before and during World War II.

He is not done yet.

Thanks to global climate change and the Bush administration's refusal to join in the U.N. accord that is attempting to deal with it, Ishihara is just getting warmed up.

"America is the most selfish country," he said during an interview in an austere meeting room in the 48-story building from which he runs Japan's largest city. "From the way they talk, Americans believe even if the world disappears, America wouldn't disappear."

Ishihara described the leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations, who gathered this month in Japan for a summit, as co-conspirators in "a big racket." They dispensed "nonsense," he said, when they agreed to try to halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, but declined to make their target mandatory.

In any case, Ishihara thinks it is too late to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

"I personally believe we are not going to make it in time," he said.

That does not mean that Ishihara -- whose city of nearly 13 million people will be half-swallowed by the rising sea by 2050, if worst-case predictions come true -- intends to stand by quietly and let Tokyo slip into a warm, wet grave.

He has bullied the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly into setting binding limits on greenhouse-gas emissions in his city, which is home to one in 10 Japanese.

He readily concedes these limits will not significantly alter the momentum of climate change, worldwide or in Japan, which is the world's fifth-largest emitter. Tokyo, for all its people, accounts for only 5 percent of Japan's emissions.

"You can only do what you can," he said. "Somebody has got to do it."


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