Thursday, 17 March 2011

Time to sit up and pay attention

I believed for many years that life is about learning stuff. Good stuff and bad stuff. You see I believe our task is to strive for betterment. I’m not talking about money or position here; I mean making an effort to improve ourselves and our surroundings for the benefit of us all. That’s why we need to be alert to what is happening in the world, give some thought to what might be causing it, and if it is detrimental, try to do something about it.
Sadly, as a race we don’t seem to be too good at learning lessons. Over the last few months the universe has given us a few mighty whacks up the side of the head and our future depends on whether we learn from these events or not.
In the last 12 to 18 months there have been a series of major disasters around the world. This in itself is nothing terribly unusual, apart from the fact the scale of several of these incidents has been far greater than normal. From the devastation of the floods that spread across several states of Australia, turning what had been desert into lakes, to the current catastrophe in Japan, the world has had a bashing.
Most of these disasters would have happened anyway as they were usually driven by natural phenomena, but there are some important lessons to be learned from many and it is crucial we ‘get it’ if we are to avoid similar catastrophic results when these natural phenomena return with similar force, as they ultimately will.
So what are the lessons? They are all pretty simple really and what is frustrating is what needs to be learned is actually stuff that has been known all along and which has been ignored in the interests of expediency, complacency, and most of all, money.
There were ten major mining disasters around the world in 2010 resulting in over 400 deaths. Of those ten disasters, only the Chilean Copper-Gold Mine had a non fatal outcome and in at least five cases, there are serious questions about health and safety practices. But irrespective of this, there has been a large body of people trying to put an end to these sorts of operations because they not only make a serious negative impact upon the environment; they are also inherently dangerous for those working in them.
Do we have to kill another 400 this year before somebody ‘gets it’ and re-evaluates the whole practice of underground mining, especially when it is for yesterday’s fuel.
But it is not only the mining disasters we need to learn from. We have also had a clutch of serious earthquakes that contain within them some important lessons we should have already learned.
In my own country the city of Christchurch has suffered two massive quakes in the last six months. The first one on September 4, 2010 destroyed a lot of property but no lives, but the second, on February 22, 2011 was a different matter altogether. The final toll is not in yet, but it is likely to be in excess of 200. The town was already severely weakened after the September 4 event in which widespread liquefaction had occurred and thus the whole city was floating on a blancmange when the latest shake came.
But what is so sad about the Christchurch events is that warnings had been given for both of these events and they were ignored by those who could have done something. An Inside New Zealand documentary screened on TV3 in 1996 warned of the sort of soil Christchurch was sitting on and what the effects of this would be in a major earthquake. Furthermore many buildings had been identified as not being sturdy enough to withstand a large earthquake. Nobody in power took any notice.
Then on February 14, 2011 weather forecaster Ken Ring predicted a very big quake would occur in Christchurch between February 17 and 21. He was only one day out, but was ignored and then ridiculed by interviewer John Campbell who ignored the fact this guy gets the weather correct far more often than the Met Office. What’s worse I doubt anybody was listening when Ring also warned about March 21 and April 17 shakes yet to come. He might be wrong and I hope he is, but given what he has already been right about, it might be wise to take some notice.
The TV3 doco also reminded us of Wellington’s many buildings not up to earthquake standard. However, so far, the Wellington City Council is still sitting in that river in Egypt and claiming it is too costly to upgrade all the buildings properly. Current regulations only require strengthening these buildings to one quarter of the required strength, which quite frankly would be a waste of money, because it would make no significant difference in a large quake. Apparently mass fatalities are a much better option.
But what has happened in Christchurch and what is likely to happen in Wellington pale into invisibility compared with the situation in Japan. Now I really am on a hobby horse.
How could a country that suffered the world’s first known major nuclear event (Hiroshima) even begin to consider building nuclear power stations?
For Chrissakes they knew what the effects of radiation on people were better than anyone else in the world. Did the geniuses who decided to build nuclear power plants there think an accident couldn’t happen?
If they did then they must be the most stupid people to have ever breathed in and out. The bloody country is a bunch of rather small islands (the whole place is only 50 percent larger than New Zealand) laid out along a massive fault region known as the Pacific Ring of Fire containing 10 percent of the world’s active volcanoes.
When you think about that it makes Japan’s nuclear supporters as bright as that bloke that blew half his face off when he was siphoning petrol and lit his lighter to get a better view of his work. But the trouble is this is not a matter of Japan blowing its own face off.  If it was simply a matter of that, we could (perhaps rather uncharitably) say that if they are really that stupid, then it serves them right.
However it is not just their face they stand to blow to pieces; it is the possibility they will do the same to the rest of us, or at the very least leave us with some pretty nasty and untreatable scars. Thank god some men with actual gonads have warmed the treasury benches in New Zealand every now and again. Without the vision and tenacity of people such as David Lange (for all his other faults) we could well have had one of these ridiculously dangerous contraptions built in, for example, Christchurch and we might be the ones now threatening the entire planet thanks to our brainless pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Above all others, this is the lesson we need to learn and to teach or even beat into the skulls of everyone on the planet. Nuclear power is dangerous – far too dangerous for us to be messing with. We still haven’t come up with a safe way to dispose of the spent fuel rods and despite all the ‘safety precautions’ nobody can guarantee there will be no accidents, even if everyone follows procedures, which many don’t.
Don’t be fooled by these bastards. Always remember when businessmen and politicians start quoting the percentages on the likelihood of an accident they are simply playing the numbers game. They don’t give a toss about people; for them it is all about the bottom line, or as it should be called, the low line. It’s time to put the heat on councils and governments over mining and unsafe buildings and it is definitely time to stop any more nuclear power stations being built – anywhere!

No comments:

Post a Comment