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Is Anyone Paying Attention?

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Dire events continue at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuke plant. Politically Incorrect


I have been following closely the events unfolding at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and, despite the impression you may have, the situation is dire. Three reactors in at least partial meltdown, severe damage at the spent fuel pond of a fourth, at least two containment vessels suspected to be full of holes, leaks in the water storage facility being used to hold irradiated water, an ever-growing radiation no-go zone, radioactive material releases into the ocean, children being exposed to massively high levels of radiation—and still, almost three months after the accident, no complete handle on what’s really going on and, unfortunately, plans to get the situation “under control” depending heavily on things like... luck.

In fact, as I began to write this, the Fukushima Dai-ichi area was bracing to confront heavy rain and winds from typhoons for which, they regretfully apologized, they were not quite prepared.

For those who thought we were already living in George Orwell’s 1984, this should be an eye-opener—Big Brother isn’t keeping quite as close an eye on things as we thought.

Of course, news of what’s going on in Japan no longer makes it to the top of the news feed, and hasn’t for quite some time. There are many reasons given for this, from Americans’ “crisis fatigue” to the compelling stories of disasters much closer to home (including, apparently, tweeted “junk” pictures). I suspect, however, that we simply have no patience for complex issues that require a longer-than-five-minutes attention span.

Which would also explain why there’s so little conversation about the two biggest issues of our time: climate change and peak oil. Instead, we prefer to spend our time discussing Sarah Palin’s rather amazing ability, as the daughter of a teacher, to flub the facts of almost any subject she chooses to talk about.

Warnings about reaching peak oil have been around for a long time, of course, and have been as hotly denied as those about climate change. With peak oil, at least, a rapidly growing number of policy makers are now acknowledging that, um, oh geez, yeah, it’s not only an issue but, dang, we’re hitting it right about now. 

Given our tendency to recognize a serious problem some years after it’s really too late to do much about it, I suspect we’ll see a recognition that climate change is actually occurring within the next year or so.

I find our ignorance of these issues absolutely stunning. After all, most of us who are alive right now will be dealing with the impacts of these two issues (and other serious issues, like the explosion of antibiotic resistance) for the rest of our lives.

We’re like a nation—or even a globe—of alcoholics who won’t deal with what’s in front of our face until we hit rock bottom.

Fukushima leads me quite naturally to thinking of these two issues because there are those aware of the problems who insist we can deal with both of them by simply building more nuke plants.

This, to me, feels like giving a 15-year-old boy a bottle of whiskey and the keys to a hot rod and assuming it will all work out okay.

It’s been a relatively short time since old Ben Franklin was out playing with his kite in a thunderstorm, and in that relatively short time we have shown ourselves to be absolutely gluttonous when it comes to energy. We want it, we want all of it, and we want all of it right now. And that’s actually pretty easy to understand. After all, I really like my washing machine and my dishwasher and my microwave oven. These are convenient. Move into things like refrigeration, and they are quite literally life-saving.

And that’s just on the personal side. Sit back, for just a moment, and picture what the greater world outside the doors of your house would look like without the abundant energy we take for granted today. Please do it, because that is the world we are setting up for our children and our grandchildren to live in.

Are there things we can still do to mitigate for what’s in our future? Certainly. Right now, it’s estimated that we here in America could reduce our energy usage 20 percent simply by conserving it. Do I think we’ll do it? Not really. We have shown ourselves to be many things in the 200-plus years since our inception, but thrifty is simply not one of them.

And we certainly won’t do it if no one is talking about how much we really need to.

Think about this the next time you pick up some strawberries to nibble on at the grocery store—strawberries that likely came to your plate from California fields that are already showing measurable amounts of radiation from the accident at Fukushima.

The time for action was yesterday. 


Subscribe to comments feed Comments (13 posted)

hyperhidrosis 08/12/2011 09:27:18
Smaller communities seem to organize better than cities in this movement. One contact person there is Karen Lamphear, and she could give you - and anyone in Clark Fork - support if you want to learn more. Thanks again for this clear first step. I'm forwarding it to the others in my study group.
Jim Newcomer 06/23/2011 06:23:49
I too spotted this in a Google Alert, and it is so clear, so thoughtful, so well-written that I am responding despite a lot of other things I should be doing. Thanks for writing it.

Last night I lead a study group that is reading the Transition Handbook, the introduction to the Transition Towns Movement that started in England a few years ago and has now spread virally around the world. Its basic premise is contained in this cheerful disclaimer: the government can't move fast enough, as individuals we are powerless, but if we organize as communities we just might be able to act fast enough - to create lives that are richer, more rewarding, and more fun than we have now.

Sand Point, across the lake from you, has a healthy TT movement; you probably are aware of it already. Smaller communities seem to organize better than cities in this movement. One contact person there is Karen Lamphear, and she could give you - and anyone in Clark Fork - support if you want to learn more. Thanks again for this clear first step. I'm forwarding it to the others in my study group.

Transition PDX, Portland, Oregon
Trish Gannon 06/23/2011 12:46:18
Thanks, Oregon Jim. I do keep an eye on what's going on with the Sandpoint Transition Initiative. We are lucky to have such forward-thinking people in our community. Unfortunately, so many people are unaware of just how precarious our situation is. I fear we are all in for a very rude awakening.
Erik Curren 06/07/2011 06:57:47
Trish, Great article. I found it through Google Alerts for "peak oil." You're so right about the media having a five minute attention span. The Fukushima situation is scary and it's still a story we should be covering. Over at our online magazine about peak oil and climate change, TransitionVoice.com, we try to hit these issues every day. People alive today are absolutely crucial -- we could leave a wasted planet with little energy to future generations or we could turn things around, starting with conservation. Glad to see that you're keeping peak oil and climate in the public consciousness.
Trish Gannon 06/07/2011 19:34:26
Thanks Erik, I was wondering how so many people found this article! Glad to see any of the others out there who are keeping these issues at least in the news, if not at the top of it. :)
Jenelle 06/07/2011 03:15:29
Civilization is like a giant insatiable beast,having long been concerned about our ability to consume I have on numerous occassions aired my views only to be told my little bit wont make a difference,I'm not giving up my comforts,my favourite grrr...You dont want to be worrying about that! or when I mention the vast amount of packaging used for childrens treats the disdainful looks I get! eg something called a jelly cup all plastic similar to the shape of a babies bottle teat contains about a desert spoon full of very firm jelly so in order to actually have some jelly the child will eat several of these,whats wrong with mixing your own and putting it into containers? I'm thinking there is some sort of packaging disorder if it doesnt come in a packet its no good check out any school childs lunch box then look at a lot of mens because some are just as bad!
We are in a drought situation here again this year,we also have laws against land clearing but does that stop them? Oh no they are out with thier bull dozers pushing down the last few trees to try and squeeze an extra couple of square metres of chemically produced crop while the young blinkered use the shower as a baby sitter for thier offspring! I could go on but you know what I mean!
Marie Rich 06/06/2011 21:56:49
Trish, Thank you for speaking out. Please come and dialogue with like-minded people at the website above. Or drop in for realtime discussion of Fukushima Daiichi at http://www.scribblelive.com/Event/Japan_Earthquake5
Jonathan 06/06/2011 21:13:55
Well, some of us are paying attention. Part of the problem is that our entire civilization was built under the premise that energy would remain cheap and abundant, an enormous lack of foresight. Not only that, but everyone living in the industrialized world has this "cheap and abundant" energy lifestyle deeply entrenched in their collective psychology. If this entire land were told we were going to wake up in the morning and live like colonial 18th century Americans, few would want to and even fewer would actually know how. We couldn't do it anyway. The infrastructure of our society was built assuming cheap and abundant energy -- not a rural agrarian lifestyle, and there are no local communities that would last a week without the loss of interstate commerce and shipping... not to mention the abundance of consumer products that are manufactured using oil or the petrochemicals farmers use. Now, each of us as individuals are collectively part of this system, but individually, most of us are working stiffs whose world doesn't extend far outside their social circle or tri-county areas, except for entertainment purposes... i.e. media, news, primetime, cable or airwaves. I promise, they subconsciously notice through these channels something sinister coming out of the shadows, but most are still too ignorant in their modern comforts to care and place a blind hope it won't happen to them. When this macro-unravelling begins in earnest to effect enough people in their local communities to a great enough degree, what then?
Judith 06/06/2011 20:19:38
Add to the dangers inherent in running a nuclear power plant, the human element.

A plant that is intended to last for say 30 years that is still running successfully at 29 years will be re-commissioned for additional time because of the cost involved in shutting down one plant and building another. So what we actually have is nuclear power plants which will be operated right up to the date that there is a significant accident/incident.
Chao 06/06/2011 20:10:22
During World War II, the entire US population were mobilized in active support of the war effort. Government leaders placed posters everywhere to provide citizens with constant reminders to give more, produce more, and sacrifice more. The media cooperated with the federal government in presenting the official view of the war. There was a 94 percent income tax rate. Yet many Americans wanted the top tax rate to rise even higher, because they recognized that to lose was not an option. So we're capable of massive change in a short time given the motivation. Global warming unfortunately is an insidious opponent. Yet I believe there is still time if we can wake each other up. What do you think about this elegant solution :www.concernedworldcitizens.org
Brian Devaney 06/06/2011 17:31:10
My Grandma was pretty thrifty so maybe it's not completely disappeared the knowledge of living within our means but we have a lot of work ahead relearning how to build with Earth, how to produce from today's sunshine the abundance we threw away in favor of plastic food and self obsessed dreaming.
milk and cheese 06/06/2011 15:17:19
If we could conserve energy by simple things like turning off electric devices when they are not in use, we would not need to build many new power plants of any kind. Our greed will destroy us.
Mike 06/06/2011 14:45:35
Thanks Trish. Good to know there are some out there who can face the facts and present them as they are.

The time for action was indeed yesterday. The clock is ticking...
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Trish Gannon Trish Gannon Owner and publisher of the River Journal since 2001, Trish works out of Clark Fork on the east end of Bonner County, a place she calls, simply, "the best place in the world to live." Mother of three, grandmother of two and an inveterate volunteer, Trish is usually tired.

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Homepage, Headlines, conservation, climate change, radiation, Politically Incorrect, nuclear power, Fukushima Dai-Ichi, natural disasters, peak oil

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