In recent years Robert D. Kaplan has been writing about the potentially disastrous consequences of urbanization and climate change: the number of deaths due to climate change will increase because of the concentration of people in high-risk zones for natural disasters. What about the political effects of natural disasters? This week’s Banyan column in The Economist posits a similar theory for Japan:
Tokyo’s quake of 1855 came just after the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and his “black ships” which forced Japan to open to the world. The two traumas were conflated. The 1923 quake and its economic consequences hastened military rule and war. The coming quake may reverberate politically, too, particularly affecting the public paternalism that prevails in Tokyo’s approach to disaster management as in so much else.
I myself have often argued that expansive domestic political change in Japan has historically been the result of external stimuli (e.g. guns in 1500s, “black ships” in the 1800s, nukes in the 1900s). I had not thought of climate change as a potential catalyst.