The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” "The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on ShockNetRadio.com.
We Don’t Have Time for This
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer
Can you say kabuki? A week ago today, on Friday, March 11, a 9.0-magnitude megathrust earthquake shook the coast of Japan, off the east coast of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku near Sendai – triggering tsunami waves of up to 33 ft that struck Japan minutes after the quake, in some cases traveling up to 6 mi inland. A final count is not in, but to date there are 5,692 deaths and 9,522 people missing.
We didn’t have to count more than four days before some cynical, religion-soaked bigot blamed the disaster on the victims themselves. That would be Malcolm McGregor III, of El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, who apparently has it directly from God himself.
Possibly the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan, ever, was a curse from God. “Japan had built tsunami walls along their coasts, but this tsunami was bigger than that. No matter what you say, they either weren’t blessed with protection or they were cursed with an earthquake,” McGregor said. “God did say, Christ did say that earthquakes would increase in the last days and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Do we really have time for this nonsense?
Real people, and mostly innocent, undeserving ones, are lost, injured or dead. Thousands are homeless. And this is the best some squirrel-brained bible-thumper can come up with? It’s kabuki, just like that stylized (and native Japanese) dance drama: disaster strikes, the victims happen not to be cripples for the Christ, so they are being punished. It’s an automatic response; it requires no thought; it calls for even less compassion. Talk to Rush Limbaugh.
Because the Fukushima Dai-ichi, or Fukushima Number 1 nuclear reactor, was flooded by the post-earthquake tsunami, knocking out emergency generators needed to run water pumps to cool and control the reactors, we saw another automated response. Although there has as yet been no breach, the reactor has released small amounts of very dangerous radiation. The kabuki-like reaction? The Chinese government is suspending approval of new atomic power plants. Other countries around the world are delaying or canceling plans for new reactors and considering shutting down some existing reactors.
Nuclear power is dangerous, right? Of course it is. Radiation persists for generations and infects everything for many years. But if the need for electric power in our modern society is a given, we must consider a cost-benefit of the alternatives. Coal, for example, the primary driver of manmade climate change, is the most carbon-dense of fossil fuels – and coal is responsible – from mine to dump – for acid rain, heavy metal pollution, and fly ash radiation
Yes, coal is worse: you see, the direct death toll from the worst nuclear accident in history, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, was less than 60. Still bad, but that’s it. The direct deaths from the even less serious radiation leaks from Fukushima Number 1 might be only a dozen. Direct deaths from coal mining: millions of times more people than nuclear power plants have killed so far.
There have to be safeguards with any energy source, of course: for nuclear power, secure waste disposal is one, and a true cost estimate from mine to dump, true cost estimates revealing who really pays, and assurance that – as in the case of Fukushima Number 1 – the reactors are not build on environmentally vulnerable or geologically unstable sites. But we have to be sensible about risk: so far, there is no zero-risk energy source that is both affordable and able to provide our planet’s energy needs.
We can do this kabuki. We’ve done it before. Just like explaining every natural disaster – from Hurricane Katrina to the Indian Ocean tsunami to the earthquake in Haiti to last Friday’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan – with not having the right skydaddy on your dance card. But should we? It makes just as much sense to assign blame irrationally, like the El Paso pea brain, as it does to calculate risk irrationally. That is, it makes none.
And do we really have time for this?