Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan, America and Preparedness

The tsunami disaster that is devastating Japan has swept me back, briefly, to my blog of February 6, 2011: “Our Water & Fracking,”  where I had mentioned that the fissures created by high pressured liquid can cause seismic tremors. 

In that blog, I mentioned the case of Cleburne, TX, of June 2009.  Just this month, we have learned that Conway, Arkansas (just slightly north of Little Rock) has been experiencing “a swarm of earthquakes,” ranging from 1.8-3.8 on the Richter scale. Two natural gas companies have agreed to temporarily suspend fracking activities until “scientists sort it all out.”  See:

Now, these are rather minor seismic events, certainly nothing like the 8.9 one that caused the tsunami on Friday, and they also are totally unrelated to what has taken place in Japan.  However, these fracking incidents are emblematic of the extent to which we, in America, tie the hands of effective governmental oversight while enabling private corporations to exercise their will on our country and our lives in a way that Japan and no other industrialized country would tolerate.

Today’s (Saturday) news reports from Japan offer insights into how that country’s strict construction codes and extensive disaster preparedness has very likely saved many lives as well as damage to its infrastructure. I can only think of how unprepared our country would be for anything like this tsunami, and, for example, how poor our preparation was for Hurricane Katrina.

Reading about Japan got me thinking of how America is likely to be even less prepared for its next natural disaster, not because of Katrina, but because of the results of our recent mid-term elections.  Republicans, Tea-Partiers (and let me also throw in libertarians) have an ideological (and maybe fatal?) disposition against what they like to call “big government.” Yet, without “big government” countries cannot create the sorts of systems that are required for effective disaster planning.  

James Glantz and Norimitsu Onishi, quoting tsunami preparedness expert Rich Eisner, wrote in today’s New York Times that “Japan’s ‘massive public education program’ could in the end have saved the most lives.”  Yet, America’s present-day Republicans would castigate such an education program as just one more example of big government interference. And the budget proposals coming out of today’s Congress show just how much we continue to shortchange education and infrastructure development (among many other things).  Let us pray that the seismic pressure is not building on the San Andreas Fault, at least not until we have had a few decades of politicians who understand the value of governmental oversight and control.

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