Right now there is a very serious problem in Japan, and even without the nuclear mess it would still be a very serious problem, and even if and when they finally stop the radioactive fallout and fatal pollution from the nuke plants, these people still have no guarantee this won’t happen again next Wednesday at seven in the morning. There is nothing to prevent the next quake and tsunami from striking right where it just did, and maybe next time it will be worse, even. If it did happen, with all of the truly horrible stuff that is going on I suspect you’d see a great deal of Japan rendered uninhabitable for a very long time. It’s very odd we do not have the capacity to make an area livable forever but we do have the ways and means to make it a place nothing can live for the foreseeable future, and past that even.
When you watch a video of the tsunami cutting through Japan what you are seeing is infrastructure, private, public, and personal, being destroyed. Roads and bridges are swept away and public transportation and services halt. Trucks and boats and farmland disappear under a wave of debris that is burning and private property is destroyed. And finally, what makes most people who they are; their homes, their photos, their pets, their families, all are erased by a force more powerful than any we have ever tried to create, and personal lives are thereby gone. The people of that area of Japan walked off with their lives and very little else to speak of.
When you look at the mounds, the hills and mountains of debris, ask yourself how much of this would be yours if you lost everything to the sea. It struck me that as a man living alone in a house built for two people, I’ve got a very large amount of private infrastructure, even if I do not have a lot of personal infrastructure. I don’t own a lot of stuff, just a house and the basics. But my mutts could be considered personal infrastructure and if I lost the house where would the Three and me flee? The amount of resources it takes to maintain my lifestyle may not seem to be very much, but in the end, I have to have a house, a truck, ways and means to feed my mutts, electricity, and sushi. I’m hardly sucking down enough resources to qualify as the last of the big time spenders, but this is the problem; even individual who are not necessarily wasteful are a problem when there are many of them. If everyone in a society needs to have a wide screen television then when something big hits there will be a lot of widescreen televisions destroyed and where does that leave us? Every house you saw being washed away has insulation, wiring coated with plastic, glass windows, chemicals in its composition that we don’t know about, and there were thousand and thousand of these houses lost and even more cars, trains, and planes. I’m guess what the Japanese are going to wind up having to throw away would fill a quarter of a million Wal-Marts.
There was a point in my life, and I was a very happy young man at this point, when everything I owned could be put in the trunk of a car, and that was it. After a fire, I was left with what clothes I was wearing, a pair of tennis shoes someone gave me, and a bag of dirty laundry I grabbed on the way out. I didn’t have much to lose so the fire wasn’t that big of a deal. My debris footprint in the case of a tsunami was nearly invisible. Today, if I had to haul off all my stuff to a landfill to get my property cleared so I could start over, well, it would take quite some time, I think. And then there are people like Elbow who owns stuff once owned by three or four generations of her ancestors, may they rest in peace.
The nuke plants that are either melting down, on the verge of exploding, or spewing radiation into the sea and ground water, are ancillary infrastructure that exists so we can have more stuff. Don’t read into this that power is bad and we all ought to get off the grid right now, which would mean you wouldn’t read the rest of this, because we do need electricity. But here’s the problem I have; we use lights in places that have no people in them to keep people from breaking into these places when if there were no light no would could see to steal. Look at all the street lights on your street. Could we live without one or two of them? If we turned off just two or three lights on every street, how many lights would we no longer need? What else is it we have or use that we don’t need, and why are we wasting our time and money on it?
One of the more striking television interviews I have ever seen was a man they interviewed after a fire in California. His house burned to the ground, and a car he was restoring was a burned hulk. The dire was so hot it melted the man’s rims on his car, and they were silver looking puddles where there once were wheels. The man grieved for his car, and was choked up when he said he had spent over a thousand bucks on those rims.
Even I, a Hermit who has little also has far too much for one person, yet this is my life. I cannot see moving closer to people to stop using so much gasoline, nor do I see taking in a family of seven to stop feeling guilty for living alone. As an aside, as long as I have to drive in traffic and shop in grocery stores, I am not going to feel too bad for getting away from people the way I do, but I wonder what I would do if I had to live in a trailer after a disaster and there were fifty thousand other people like me crammed into a small space?
You cannot accept solutions for a problem, or for that matter the definition of a problem, from a man who is part of that same problem.