While watching the incredible images of the devastation in Japan we can only reflect on how vulnerable we are. For in spite of our penchant for elevating the honor and glory of mankind we are but pawns in the hands of Mother Nature. Our hearts go out to the Japanese people. We are saddened by their loss and humbled by their quiet resolve to overcome this tragedy.
The Japanese people have been struggling economically for the past decade. Their financial crisis rivals anything that we have faced over the past three years. It would be more than enough for them to continue to find their economic footing. To then face the destruction brought on by a 9.0 earthquake is unfathomable. Add to that the fear, helplessness and total devastation carried on the thirty foot waves of the resulting tsunami and you wonder how things could possibly get any worse. Until they did; as four of the areas nuclear reactors exploded adding radioactive particulates to an already unimaginable situation.
As Americans are want to do; we immediately start to question how this tragedy affects us. We cannot control Mother Nature. “Stuff happens” as the saying goes. So we focus on the nuclear reactors. We question the expanding role of nuclear power as a source of energy. Talking heads fill the airwaves with graphs and charts outlining the location of our nuclear reactors and the estimated affects of a nuclear meltdown. Opponents of nuclear energy run around with their hair on fire, shrieking statistics of cancer, respiratory disease and other ailments brought on by radiation exposure. Proponents of nuclear energy calmly note that we keep flying after planes crash, sailing after ships sink and mining after mines collapse. The cacophony is as maddening as it is telling.
The fact is that there is absolutely no future planning going on in this country. We are a reactionary country. When a fire occurs we run head first into the burning building. Afterwards we analyze the event to death and pass all measure of legislation to assure that it never happens again. But we never seem to have the courage to tackle the problem before it happens; even when we know with all certainty that the tragedy will occur.
We do have an energy crisis. We do have a debt crisis. We do have a deteriorating infrastructure and a failing education system. Social Security will run out of money on a date certain. But we do not have the will to make the tough decisions necessary to tackle these problems. We would rather kick the can down the road.
The crisis of the moment is the debt. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have offered a serious proposal to resolve the issue. We have been content to sell our debt off to the Chinese…and the Japanese. It would seem that the Japanese might not be in the position to buy a more of our debt for a while.
The events in Japan will temporarily shift our focus to our energy crisis. Nuclear is dangerous and there is the problem with disposal of the waste. Coal is plentiful but even clean coal pollutes the atmosphere. We have more natural gas than the Saudi’s have oil; but extracting it pollutes the water table. Solar and wind just don’t seem to excite us enough to warrant investment. And then there is oil, the preferred drug for our addiction. We will do anything for it; even sacrifice our sons and daughters to guarantee its uninterrupted flow.
The fact is we do not have a comprehensive energy plan to deal with this crisis. And this “crisis” has been going on since we laughed at Jimmy Carters’ energy conservation proposal in 1977.
The simple truth is that our current comprehensive energy plan is managed by the Department of Defense. It consists of inserting United States military forces wherever necessary to insure that foreign oil continues to flow to our shores. It is a costly, unsustainable plan that is ultimately destined to fail. Let us hope that when that day comes we are able to exhibit the same courage and quiet resolve that the Japanese people have exhibited over these past few days.