Fearing the Wrong Things

This is a very interesting topic in my opinion and people far more knowledgeable than me have written articles and whole books about it. I don’t claim to know anything about the topic but nevertheless I dare to have an opinion.

There are a ton of things humankind wrongly fears. One classic example is shark attacks. Maybe a dozen people die every year from shark attacks – but how many die from smoking? Car accidents? War? And and and? Not a single death from smoking makes it into the media, but shark attacks are big news. – why? Because shark attacks are rare, scary, and sudden, whilst dying from smoking is a long-term process.

Which leads me to the statement that we fear short-term, sudden things, no matter what they are, much more than long-term, creeping, and slow things, while actually it should be the other way round. This fear of sudden things like a shark attack is juicy for the media and they ride it out for a few days until the next big news happens, which is again short-term, and so forth. Thus our focus shifts from what we should really worry about, long-term creeping stuff to short-term catastrophes.

One great example for that is climate change, which doesn’t happen overnight. Other great examples are smoking or alcoholism. Stuff that destroys you over years and years seems far less scary than it should be.
What triggered thinking about such stuff was an article, which I forwarded around in Facebook, about the health problems in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. In that article they stated that nobody had any problems with radiation, but people died from being suddenly evacuated or from suicide triggered by losing their homes, social networks, jobs etc. People all around the world went bonkers when Fukushima happened, as far as Germany, which is 10,000 miles away. Even four years on, I hear ridiculous comments about babies being born with three ears here because we are all radioactive, while natural background radiation in the south of Germany is three times higher than radiation levels in Tokyo. I do not wish to say in any form that what happened in Fukushima wasn’t/isn’t dangerous and terrible. I think it’s crazy to have dozens of nuclear reactors operating in one of the seismically most active regions in the world. But just how many people who believe that we are all radioactively contaminated here smoke and/or drink…?

I think that our media reporting and our desire for scandals, big events, and big news is distorting reality. Short-term, sudden events get much more media coverage than they deserve. What really kills people and what really affects the future of our planet, slumbers in the background and doesn’t get enough attention and that could prove to be a fatal mistake, quite literally.

Four Years After 3/11

It’s already been four years since Japan got shaken through by the great Tohoku earthquake, the ensuing tsunami and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In Tokyo and surroundings earthquake activity is continuing to decrease, but there are still quite a number of aftershocks, especially in the Tohoku area. Well, M9 was one big quake…
In Tokyo itself all’s back to normal for quite a while already. The last aftermaths you can find in some subways lines that still run with half their in-cabin lights to save energy. Other than that, the office I work in, for example, is hopelessly overheated this winter – no trace of energy saving there.
We all received an emergency rucksack in the office containing batteries, a flashlight, gold-foil to keep you warm, gloves and other essentials. We store them now under our desks together with our helmets. Kinda funny it took 4 years to get those (they were distributed this January), but better late than never.

Personally, I keep a lot more food and water at home than before the earthquake and can easily survive for two weeks or so, should my apartment not collapse. I am finding myself already obliged to eat some of this stuff, since its expiry date is coming near and I am gradually replenishing it with new supplies.

The news were full of Fukushima stuff these days. In the not radioactively contaminated areas rebuilding has progressed quite a lot, as I also saw myself when I visited Higashimatsushima city in December for the company’s Santa Clause charity event.

In the contaminated areas things look of course still different. Most reports were about displaced people who cannot return to their contaminated homes and how they cope or rather not cope with the extended refugee life.
The reports were all rather teary with many elderly people whining to sad background music they want to go home and cannot. What struck me most was an elderly couple who returned to their house 9km or so from the nuclear plant to retrieve some stuff, and discovered that the wife’s expensive kimonos have been stolen. So… somewhere on the used-kimono market are radioactive ones… also, their house was ransacked by wild boars… the only mentioning anywhere that of course animals roam the abandoned areas, eating contaminated plants and digging in contaminated soil.
I didn’t sit in front of the TV for hours, I have only seen bits and pieces but they make you wonder…

While there was no more talk of tsunami wreckage – has it all been taken care of? There was talk of sacks upon sacks of contaminated soil and what to do with them and where to put them. While Japanese TV showed orderly lined up sacks of soil, one Facebook friend posted an article from a non-Japanese news site showing abandoned sacks of such soil on a beach, plunging gradually into the ocean…

Other programs focused on the Fukushima plant itself and philosophized about clean-up taking more than 40 years… One of the three melt-down reactors is now covered in a house, the others are still too hot to send workers close? I didn’t catch the details. 300 tons of radioactively contaminated cooling water is added per day. Kilometer-wide nothing but water tanks. Where to put all this stuff? I do not envy the people who have to deal with these problems.

On the surface all is back to normal – as long as it lasts. The next big quake could happen tomorrow. Below the surface? The waters are deep, that’s for sure and no clue what lurks beneath. I am still not buying any vegetable produce from Fukushima prefecture, I must say, but I don’t know where the salad I eat in the company’s canteen comes from. I don’t know where their fish comes from, or the meat, or the mushrooms. But still, I think we live healthier here, even if we might glow a bit in the dark, than vast parts of environmentally polluted China for example… I do not practice a head-in-the-sand kind of lifestyle, but on the other hand I also think it’s unhealthy to worry day and night and to fall for conspiracy theories. Thus my major concern is and remains the next quake rather than Fukushima… I just hope very hard that we’ll be spared a big one for the coming forty years or so…