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The Arrogance Of Ignorance

The chain of disasters that appear to be without end in Japan got me to thinking. We’ve known for a while that Japan owes its very existence to the ever evolving geography along the ring of fire that outlines the Pacific Rim. It stretches along the western coast of North America, up to Alaska, over to the eastern coast of Russia and downward to Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, across the bottom of the Pacific, and then up the western coast of South America in one of the world’s biggest circles.

A lot of scientist and other experts talk about the Earth’s seismic activity along this rim as just a part of life on planet Earth. And we’ve accepted that. We know that they’ll be earthquakes and tidal waves and other significant events in these places. But we chose to ignore this information and take our chances that the big one that we are always told is coming is so far into the future that we don’t have anything to worry about. Like many things, we leave our future generations to handle those problems. All we need to do is worry about what’s happening now in our own lives and we shouldn’t spend valuable brain cells worrying about what will eventually happen but chances say won’t happen today.

So with that in mind, people will chose to live in a place that might not be safe in the long term. For example, we know that an earthquake is going to hit California. Everybody talks about the big one that will have Los Angeles succumb to the same fate as the lost city of Atlantis. But right now it’s just not that important and we chose to dismiss such an eventuality. At least until it happens. So until then, many of us will make the choice to live as if nature is simply not a factor.

The earthquake and tidal wave that hit Japan a couple of weeks ago were not unexpected, they were anticipated. That’s why Japan invested so much into earthquake and tsunami monitoring systems. The Japanese wanted every advantage to minimize the risk of living in such an environment. But with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, it spears that some of the choices they made were rather foolish. Why build nuclear power facilities along the coast where they can be subject to multiple blows from nature?

The earthquake and tidal wave that hit Japan were traumatic. To say that those two events caused catastrophic damage would be an understatement. It was as if the Earth itself was attacking. The devastation was utterly complete and it was widespread. It was another reminder of just how insignificant we are in relation to this lone planet, let alone the grand scheme of things we call the universe.

But as traumatic and as life altering those two natural events may have been, if that was all the Japanese people was dealing with, they would be picking themselves up, cleaning up the damage, and making plans to rebuild. Unfortunately, the Japanese people have the added unnatural burden of dealing with a nuclear meltdown of their own creation. The potential for radiation poisoning has the Japanese population abandoning their homes, businesses, neighborhoods, towns and villages to escape a disaster with the potential for far more significant devastation. While the wall of water may have washed away entire areas of population and killed thousands, the water will subside and people can inhabit an area once again. On the other hand, radiation has the potential to be deadly for thousands of years to come, leaving an area uninhabitable for many lifetimes to come. Nature has the potential to be deadly. But it appears that our own decisions have the potential to be even deadlier.

The devastation in Japan is just the latest example of people collectively making the wrong choice. When people made the choice to live in New Orleans, a city that exist below sea level right next to a sea of water and then protect it from disaster with a levee system designed to handle a category 4 storm while ignoring the potential category 5, they were playing the same type of gamble. The Knox mine disaster where the waste pool from coal mining was placed on the sides of mountain above the place where people live was a bad choice. History is full of them.

We all make choices that have all kinds of consequences. Going left when we should’ve turned right can be devastating. But we can minimize the impact of such consequences by making sure we make informed decisions. But when we intentionally and willfully ignore what we know and take risk to thrive and build things in places that we know are potentially dangerous, we make the choice to compounds nature’s wrath with the wrath of our own arrogant complacency.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - Posted by | Life, Thoughts

1 Comment »

  1. If the nuke plant had been built away from the sea they would not have had the water to cool the thing. Nuke plants could be built inside a mountain so that they are already entombed. I understand that third generation plants have convection cooling and don’t need the pumps. We are probably looking at a learning curve and if we survive long enough we will figure it out.

    Comment by chris tidman | Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | Reply

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