Tsunami and Nuke Disaster: How Human Arrogance Intensifies Suffering
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For Japan, nuclear power was both a solution to compensate for extremely limited hydrocarbon reserves and a big-ticket export, so it was willing to countenance an industry with an outrageous history of accidents. This includes a 1995 explosion at an experimental reactor at Monju that shut the facility for 14 years; an earthquake and subsequent fire and radioactive leak at the Kashiwazaki plant in 2007; a steam explosion that killed four workers in 2004 at a plant west of Tokyo; and the bizarre case in 1999 of technicians, who were under time pressure, mixing nuclear fuels in buckets and overfilling a tank, which initiated a self-sustaining chain reaction that killed two of them.
Natural hazards, of course, will continue to occur. But with the drive for more industrialization, developing technologies with unknown drawbacks (such as nanotechnologies), and less regulation and oversight, the future looks bleak. Indeed, natural hazards are becoming less and less natural, from the threat of newly emerging diseases inflamed by agribusiness practices to earthquakes apparently caused by hydrofracking and geothermal energy production to climatic and hydrological catastrophes intensified by global warming.
This era of mega-disasters should be making us aware of the insanity of our economy. The one silver lining to Japan’s cloud of deadly radiation is that it may dispel the specious argument that nuclear power is the answer to global warming. But even if it does, we need to dispense with the logic behind this argument: that we can solve one crisis of capitalist development with another capitalist fix.
In the case of climate change, which is likely to reshape our world with unimaginably dire consequences, one “solution” gaining traction is geo-engineering. Geo-engineering is based on the assumption it’s too difficult to shift human society toward a low-consumption, shared economy. Instead, keep on driving those SUVS to big-box retailers to fill your McMansion with more crap because we will just re-engineer the earth to adapt it to global warming and our rapacious consumer economy.
It sounds like a joke, except that some of the biggest billionaires in the world, such as Bill Gates, are throwing their wealth into far-fetched schemes to re-engineer the earth, the oceans and the atmosphere. When something goes wrong, as it inevitably will, it will make plugging an undersea volcano of oil or cooling a runaway nuclear reaction seem like child’s play.