Saturday, June 9, 2012

Japan and Oregon United by a Tsunami

On March 11, 2011 a Tsunami struck the east coast of Japan with devastating effects. Over 15,000 people lost their lives with tens of thousands more injured or missing. Over a million buildings were damaged or destroyed. The economic cost is staggering, over $200 billion. Most of the world saw the devastating footage of the rising ocean swallowing up towns, washing away buildings, cars, boats, trucks, and anything else in its wake. Through television and the internet anyone in the world could see what the tsunami did to the people and communities in its path. The tsunami also triggered an ecological crisis. In the weeks that followed it looked possible that the world would face another Chernobylesque meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Thankfully, the world avoided that catastrophe, but it rose questions about the dangers of nuclear power. In May 2011 Germany announced that it would phase out its nuclear power plants over the next decade. One year later the tsunami is still causing ecological aftereffects. The tons of debris swept out to sea is washing up on the Oregon coast. The picture of the dock to the right came ashore earlier this week. Who knows what else will follow, but it is a sign that natural disasters can have a global impact. There are examples from the past, such as the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies) in 1815, which caused 1816 to be known as the year without a summer. But our lives are so much different in the 21st century. Economies are tied closely together and a significant reduction in consumption or even manufactured goods (depending on the area hit) will send economic aftershocks throughout the globe. Debris, too, can have impact on other nations, even ones thousands of miles away as the other side of the Pacific Ocean! It is not just garbage, but scientists are concerned about invasive species that might grab a ride. And, of course, as the examples of Chernobyl and Fukushima illustrate, our modern sources of energy (and we should add synthetic products and chemicals) can have serious ecological and human consequences if they are disbursed into the environment without control and at unsafe levels.

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