To go green, get ready to spend green

For consumers in Japan - and indeed everywhere - Shiro Kurihara has some bad news: You are going to have to pick up the tab for the greening of your society.

A bureaucrat turned researcher and professor, Mr. Kurihara recalls a central tenet of the environmental movement: the principle that the polluters must pay for the damage they cause. Now, he says, people should recognize that all citizens must pay the added costs of making their economies less environmentally destructive.

If the process is subject "to the price mechanism in market economies," he says, "there will be very little demand for environmentally friendly products." That is because such products tend to cost too much.

Take solar-generated electricity. Japan leads the world in the number of photovoltaic panels being installed, but the price per solar-generated kilowatt remains 100 yen (about 83 cents) - roughly four times what electricity costs when purchased from a power company.

People who install solar panels or buy the Misawa Hybrid-Z house "are very nice people, but people in general will not follow suit," warns Kurihara, who teaches in the faculty of commerce at Tokyo's Hitotsubashi University. He detects a fundamental imbalance at work. The person who buys an environmentally sound product has to pay more - but the benefit from that product is shared by everyone. In other words, the Prius owner pays extra to drive an environmentally friendly car, but everyone breathes the cleaner air that results.

The extra cost, he argues, should be shared more broadly. And he says government is in the best position to administer the cost-sharing, through green taxes, subsidies, and other measures.

But officials and politicians aren't likely to take these steps on their own, Kurihara continues, so it will be up to people to volunteer to share the burden of going green, in partnership with governments and corporations. "The initiative lies with the citizens," he says.

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