Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fear in the face of 24:7 News

Fear resides in the unknown. Not knowing, not in control, results in easily manipulable fear. Watching news presentations when in need of useful information, you see the stark absence of helpful details.

Watching the Japanese nuclear power plant disaster in the news, I realized how little I understood about nuclear power. I had no personal knowledge of radiation but a general understanding that radiation is bad. Stripped of my own powers of analysis, I turned to the internet and the news. Sensational headlines are great for selling papers and keeping viewers glued to the TV, but when you are in the disaster area especially one in a foreign language, you want details and an analysis of what things matter. If information can't help me discriminate between actions then it falls into useless or perhaps in another setting entertainment. I jumped around the web looking at webpages from various news sources, I searched through a few blogs on energy. Taking a crash course in nuclear energy would have been be more useful- too much information and too little coherency or time to formulate what was relevant especially under the threat of rolling black out made the internet sources overwhelming. I palpably felt the fear of radiation as buildings blew up and my Facebook page alerted me others' fears- again always general and vague like those grey clouds that roll into Seattle and don't leave until July leaving you in a hazy funk.

The USS George Washington, a nuclear powered air craft carrier docked at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, has on board "sensitive equipment" to detect radiation. My facebook page crackled to life when it detected radiation in the local community and the US Navy suggested precautions such as staying inside and closing ventilation system; it did go on to say that if you could not avoid outside activity it was ok, but some of us went into lack of control orbit anyway.

I spent two days in the house with damp laundry hanging in my living room while breezy gusts of wind shimmered the trees outside. I finally made the bread recipe stuck on the fridge with a magnet after going out to buy bread and realizing that it would take forever to get through the line- easier to make it. Focus on the task at hand came courtesy of a looming blackout-no time to dillydally. My milk delivery arrived from the food coop that has been delivering milk to my home every Saturday for nearly four years. I felt hopeful. The long lines for gas were avoided since we could obtain gas from the base, and when supplies were low or restocked, an email notified us.

At the yochien graduation the ex-pat dads chatted about radiation. One of the dads had found several websites where people were posting geiger counts from the local area. You could look at real numbers as often as you wanted to reassure yourself that you were not going to start glowing- it was independent, from a variety of sources, and it felt like a cold hard data point- something inspiring trust with all of the fear and opinions being thrown at us. The ex-pat dads talked about how traveling by airplane from Japan to the USA was a big dose of radiation that few let hinder their travel plans. What of visiting a city in Colorado- do we stop and think about radiation before going? How about eating bananas? Apparently they have a radiation dose in them that few consider. I felt better as these were real world concepts I could get my head around and not just a dose of fear.

What has become of us in modern life: who can clean our floor without electricity to vacuum and steam it? Who can grind their coffee beans without an electric grinder? Do we understand the energy we daily use and the consequence to the environment if we chose nuclear versus coal? Do we see the impact on the water, the land of either of these choices? Should be really fear nuclear power? I have no idea, but I am beginning to see that without preparation and appropriate tools at hand, we cannot easily make our own bread if we have been relying on a bread maker, or hang the laundry if don't have lines and pins, or make appropriate energy choices in the face of fear.

I had to dig my tea kettle out of the far reaches of the cabinet to boil water on my gas stove. I felt lucky to have both gas and electric in our rented house. The frequent aftershocks made me grateful that my Japanese house could withstand so much shaking even though I had complained bitterly about said same house's cold due to it's lack of insulation and single paned windows.

Maintaining calm in one's mind while less than useful news flickers by and dealing with new ways of managing one's household is more challenging than I expected. My husband commented that he missed the old days when the news agencies compiled data once a day and presented the news instead of the constant reporting with no relevance. I can only hope that our individual powers of analysis will be up to the task of sorting out the facts in the face of our fears.