Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sobering St. Patrick's Day

No, no, I didn't say Sober St. Patrick's Day. I would never dare to suggest that we mark this Irish-For-a-Day holiday without a favorite Irish libation at hand (and a designated driver if not safely at home). It's a jolly celebration that our friends in and from Ireland have happily shared with us and is always a favorite regardless of heritage or nationality. My family is of English, Scotch, Welsh, German and French (on my husband's side) descent primarily, but somewhere along the way, it's possible that an Irish lad or lass wandered into the bloodline. Even if not, today, we all claim a little of the green for our own and raise a glass with a lusty, "Erin Go Bragh!!!"

All that said (bring down the lights, darken the tone, queue the solemn dirge), I can't escape the grim weight of the devastation that has enveloped another of our nation's fast friends over the past week. It has just gotten worse and worse for poor Japan as the hours and days have passed. We all knew it was terrible when we woke up last Friday morning to the news of the tremendous earthquake and ensuing tsunami. That alone was a natural catastrophe like nothing the world has seen in some time. It makes Katrina look like a thunderstorm (not to diminish that disaster - suffering is relative). But just when we started to digest the magnitude of the natural disaster, we were confronted with the man-made disaster that was beginning to unfold. The largest nuclear power complex in the world on Japan's coast handled the huge earthquake, as designed, but the massive tsunami an hour later took out the backup generators, and it's all been downhill since then.

For those of us who grew up during the rise of nuclear power plants in the 70s; who in 1979 watched Jack Lemmon's Oscar nominated performance as a nuclear power plant whistleblower and Jane Fonda's also Oscar nominated portrayal of a reporter trying to cover a possible worst case meltdown scenario in The China Syndrome; who got a glimpse 12 days after the opening of that movie of what it could mean in real life at Three Mile Island; and who watched from a safe distance in 1986 as the full scale meltdown potential was realized at Chernobyl, this is the stuff of some of our worst nightmares. Just the mention of radiation exposure/poisoning sends chills of panic down our spines - at least it does mine. And Japan is one of the very few places on earth that has seen the deadly effects of intense radiation firsthand in the form of two atomic bombs. I can't begin to imagine the fear and panic that they are struggling to keep at bay on top of an already unthinkable situation.

We can argue the merits and pitfalls of energy policy ad nauseum. It won't change the fact that energy greedy countries are going to take shortcuts and disasters are going to result. We got our own taste last year with BP and the Deepwater Horizon well (I've heard criticism that the Japanese government is not being forthcoming and that the power plant owners are the ones calling the shots - sound familiar?). Add to offshore drilling and nuclear power the mountaintop removal process used in coal mining and the fracking method being used to extract natural gas. We can think of no end of ways to violate our planet and our health in the search for more fuel, and still, when these things happen, we stubbornly refuse to get serious about conservation and clean energy (I include myself in that assessment - I'm as wasteful as the next person and love my gas guzzling minivan). Obviously we can't give all these energy sources up today, but shouldn't we at least be busting our butts to get to cleaner and safer ones while reducing our consumption?

The nuclear meltdown in Japan and the oil spill in the Gulf are just two in a long line of disasters waiting to happen due to short-sightedness, greed, and denial about our vulnerability. And none of it matters in the face of the real distress and danger that the Japanese people are in at the moment. For them, it's a gut-wrenching matter of survival and desperately trying to spare their people and their land the worst case scenario. It's looking less and less likely that they will be able to do it, despite the most heroic of efforts. My heart goes out to all of them. We owe them our support in these darkest hours and need to back off on the armchair quarterbacking. They are doing everything they know to do in the full knowledge that they may very well pay with the lives of the ones on the front lines and probably more.

So where did I start this post before I descended into despair and hopelessness about Japan? Oh yeah, St. Patrick's Day. Ugh, the sad reality is that most of us average Americans cannot do a thing of substance from where we are at this point. We can lob money, but it's not going to cool those melting fuel rods. We can decorate our Twitter and Facebook accounts with banners and cheery messages, but it's not going to bring back the thousands of people who were washed away by the tsunami. What we can do is send out our deepest and most heartfelt thoughts and prayers and let the Japanese people know that we care and stand with them, and recognize that it could just as easily be us.

I saw this add somewhere online, and it did my heart good. Land of the Rising Shamrock - excellent:

Maybe in addition to being Irish-For-a-Day, we can be Japanese-For-as-Long-as-it-Takes. Keep our Japanese friends in your thoughts tonight as you raise your glasses of Guinness and Harp. I think I'll make mine a green sake...

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