Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan's Tragedy and the World's Crisis

Along with so many others around the world, my heart goes out to the people of Japan as they face an ongoing tragedy brought about by a devastating earthquake, followed by a tsunami, and subsequently a worsening nuclear disaster. When such horrible things happen to such a sophisticated and cultured society, it reminds us all of our tenuous position on this Earth.

I do not at all want to minimize the trials and tribulations of others around the world who have also been confronted with horrible disasters in recent years -- Haiti, Indonesia, New Orleans, and Iraq come to mind -- but as the third largest economy in the world, and as a technological powerhouse, what's happened in Japan is a reminder that any of us can be devastated at any time. The most advanced engineering can't prevent tragedy, and the most advanced technologies can prove to be the most dangerous.

And it needs to be pointed out that, given Japan's geopolitical & economic status, the tragedy in Japan may prove to bring about crisis around the world. The effects may not be as sudden or shocking as the earthquake which the Japanese people experienced, but the economic ramifications could be equally as tragic for many people across the globe. It feels a little callous to talk of dips to the GDP and the crash of the Nikkei stock market, but international trade has been effected -- and in this interconnected global economy, people's very lives depend on certain aspects of trade. How the terrible events in Japan will effect people in other nations remains to be seen -- but have no doubt that people will be effected in ways precisely unknown at the moment.

In the simplest of terms... consumer-based economies of the west (like the United States) will almost certainly be effected. Production in Japan has largely been halted, supply chains have been disrupted, and the types of imports into the world's 3rd largest economy will be substantially different. All these factors will reverberate throughout the factories, fields, and mines of other nations. Unemployment and economic hardship are almost certain to follow -- and those hardships will cost lives and destroy nations.

Don't mistake me for believing that up until now there has been economic justice or stability around the world! On the contrary! But that's what makes the situation even more dire. Those in power, particular the corporate oligarchs, are likely to exploit this disaster just as they have so many others. Undoubtedly, we will soon be seeing yet another example of "The Shock Doctrine" put into practice. In the wake of a disaster of this magnitude... it is impossible to speculate upon the depths of depravity to which the corporate fascists will stoop. Our safest bet would be to not underestimate them while preparing to resist.

Furthermore, in light of the global economic chaos of recent years, the recent events in Japan may prove to be the linchpin which unravels the entire global economy. Accusations of histrionics may fly, but never have there been so many people dependent upon the machinations of such a corrupt and cruel global economy. Never before has their been such a disparity of wealth around the globe. Never before has their been such tight demand on a non-renewable fuel source. And as tenuous and contrived as the whole modern economic system has become... it's just taken yet another terribly devastating blow.

A reiterating word must be said regarding the tight demands of fuel for the global economy. In particular... the peaking of non-renewable coal and oil. The reality of peak oil is actually a very simple concept, but few have adequately acknowledged it. As the human population is growing exponentially... the primary fuel of our modern techno-industrial civilization is simply running out. If extraction rates haven't already peaked -- as many experts have suggested -- they certainly will in the not-so-distant future. We are talking about the fuel which powers the tractors, transports the food, and forms the primary basis for petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Simply put... the whole system of modern agriculture practices is unsustainable!

The concept of peak oil is not brought up merely because it plays such an important role in the global economy. It is a problem all on its own, to be sure, but when such individual problems are put into the context of other serious economic problems... it becomes apparent how they are interconnected. And what this current article is suggesting is that Japan is very much connected with the rest of the world's economy. A crisis like the one we are seeing in Japan will have repercussions throughout every other sector -- all around the world.

Finally, a word needs to be said about nuclear power. From the first tests of nuclear weapons, to the bombing of Hiroshima; from the meltdown of Chernobyl to toxic waste, and on to the proliferation of fissile material... nuclear power has never been the safest or cleanest technology. Many people around the world have been sold its merits by governments which actually had little interest in it beyond its utility for war and profits. But it's never truly been a viable long term solution to the world's energy needs. In any case, either way, the prospects for expanding nuclear power around the world have undoubtedly been diminished as the world witnesses the ongoing meltdown of reactors in northern Japan.

And again, the nuclear tragedy in Japan is also the world's crisis. Japanese people are known around the world as being at the forefront of technological advancement -- and if their nuclear power plants can melt down... it could happen anywhere. Indeed, many lesser reactors are currently in operation around the world. All of them need to be formally, efficiently, and quickly decommissioned. And while that may sound like an extreme proposal... it would be nothing compared to more nuclear disasters.

No further proposals will be made in this article beyond that last one. The crisis in Japan is a microcosm of what we are all facing everywhere around the world and, at the very least, we are all effected by the events taking place in Japan. The reality is... civilization is in dangerous and uncharted waters. Some might suggest that these things have always happened in every civilization, but never have we (as a species) experienced problems of this magnitude -- with so many billions of us dependent on such a corrupt, flawed, and faltering system. If we do not acknowledge and actually rectify the myriad of problems with our modern lifestyles... I am not sure what can save us from ourselves.