The Age of Catastrophe

I grew up in a town about the size of Joplin, Missouri.  I can imagine what it must have been like to be a child in the path of the storm.  I can imagine the howling wind and the horror of twisted metal, trees lifted from the ground and buildings demolished, as half your world was wiped away in a matter of minutes.

It must have felt like the end of the world.

I can imagine what is must have been like for thousands across Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana and Georgia as dozens of killer tornados blazed a path of destruction like General Sherman’s march to the sea.

I can imagine what it must be like for hundreds of thousands still living in the nuclear dead zone of Japan, where the soil is infertile, where the land, the air and the water are contaminated forever.

It must feel like the end of the world.

The religious are inclined to say it is the wrath of God.  The secular may say it is nature’s revenge.  The scientific community says it is a confirmation of global climate change.  But to that child in Joplin Missouri, Tuscaloosa Alabama or Fukushima Japan it does not matter.  The age of catastrophe is upon us.

We are closer to the end of the world than we have ever been before and tomorrow we will be closer than we are today.

Japan is, in a sense, a microcosm of America.  Without the natural resources required to support its ever-growing economy, it chose nuclear as an alternative to fossil fuels.  Given that nation’s history it is an ironic choice.  Now it seems they are stuck with it.

Japan’s nuclear crisis is a profound tragedy and one that will shadow its people for as long as they shall live.  They chose nuclear energy in an age of natural disasters and they must pay the price.  They have become a virtual dead zone, an enigma to the rest of the world.  Their days are dark and their future is imperiled.

The story of Japan is a tragedy that might have been avoided.  They had a choice.  They took the nuclear option with the assurances of a scientific consensus that it was the safer option.  It has become clear that that consensus was dead wrong and the harm is compounded because it has damaged the credibility of science at a time when that credibility is needed to prevent further catastrophes on an infinitely grander scale.

The tragedy of Japan’s nuclear experiment should be a lesson to America and the rest of the world as we confront a similar choice:  In an age of catastrophe, when a single tornado can demolish half a city, when dozens of twisters can mark a path of annihilation through the south, when tsunamis and hurricanes can destroy national economies and wipe out hundreds of thousands from the earth, is the nuclear risk worth the gamble?

Until now most scientists have answered in the affirmative but the Japanese disaster has forced them to recalibrate.  Science made a bad promise, Japan committed, France doubled down and Germany followed suit.  Like Japan, France is now trapped in nuclear dependency as they await their own inevitable disaster.

Germany wants out.  In the wake of recent election losses the administration of Angela Merkel has announced it will close all nuclear plants within eleven years.  As news spreads through the back channels about how bad the Japanese crisis really is and how vulnerable we all are we can expect the people of Europe to demand that nuclear energy should be phased out throughout the continent.  That is the virtue of democracy.  When the people express a clear and decisive discontent, the government must respond or release the reins of power.

In America, the government and their corporate sponsors have been far more effective in deceiving the people.  We are among the last holdouts on the science of climate change.  Despite the mounting evidence and a string of environment disasters that support the theory, we cling to our monster vehicles and refuse to acknowledge a connection between the poisons we spew into the atmosphere and the planet’s revenge.  We continue to elect representatives who are making plans for more coal, dirtier and more oil, chemical fracturing to mine liquid gas and, of course,0 more nuclear energy.

What do we know that the world fails to grasp?  We have learned nothing from Joplin, from Katrina and New Orleans, from the bulging Mississippi River, from a catastrophic Gulf oil spill, from tornado strikes in California and Massachusetts, from the latest series of mining disasters, from flammable water and radioactive wastelands.

Will we learn nothing from Japan?

Nuclear energy, like coal and oil and oil sands and oil shale, is a last resort energy source for very good reason:  It is there and we can exploit it but its cost is high and in the end it will destroy us.

We are at a critical point in history.  Those nations that turn now to cleaner sources of energy, to solar and wind and efficient mass transit, will be the nations that dominate the future.

If at this critical juncture we hide our heads in the sand and wait for the next chain of catastrophes to render us a third rate power, we will have only ourselves to blame.

Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by Dissident Voice and others. Read other articles by Jack, or visit Jack's website.