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Friday, April 01, 2011

Web-based truths obligate us to prepare

There seem to be two takes on the response to the fallout. One says that there's an ongoing leak and the risk must be acknowledged. Another, held by the docile Americans, holds that what the government tells us about fallout means we don't have to do anything to react.

Well, the question of fallout is an objective one: there either is or isn't a direct risk. Now if there's a direct risk, some could argue it may not require taking precautions, being that the risk is too low. That assessment of the risk should be the result of objective analysis of all relevant facts, and presume a worst case scenario.

In the Internet age, if government simply says there's no risk, people are bound to question authority. While there've been plenty of good reasons to distrust the mainstream media, this in itself is NOT proof that a conspiracy is afoot. The media may just be parroting what the government tells them.

Complaints have been lodged that there is a mainstream media blackout over the impact of the leak. One theory would have us believe that the media blackout (or tone-down) is a cooperative effort by GE, which owns NBC-MSNBC with Comcast. This concept has added weight considering the Fukushima plant was built by GE on a GE design.

Not so much now--with the Libya story asserting itself--but earlier, CNN and Anderson Cooper were far more involved in the radioactive leak story, going as far as to stand among Tokyo skyscrapers with a handheld radiation meter.

Since Libya, the mainstream media has been distracted away from Japan. The nuclear incident seems to have been buried with tsunami rubble--a tragedy but one that's ended, whose time is passed. I wonder sometimes if Libya isn't a synthetic controversy meant to distract the American public from the radiation over their heads.

Unfortunately we can't assume the danger is passed here in the U.S., despite what our leaders tell us. The real story is actually how little government will do.

This lack of information makes us vulnerable. More than in the past, I'm roused by the need to provide the missing information. This is a instinct, I guess, that motivates me to write specifically for the Web. People will find out the truth, which can lead them to do the right things, saving future suffering.

The need to take action should at some point exceed the need to get accurate information, a function provided through the Web better than through other media. Yet as valuable as the Web is, it doesn't do the work. Many take no action on what they learn on the Web although the numbers who rely on it are growing. The recent Fukushima event has many pondering the effects; those with access to the Web are typically more aware of the situation.

Like the poor people who took to the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon leaked, what you don't know can kill you. Corexit 9500 dispersant made swimming treacherous. I've read stories of swimmers and recreational water users contracting what appears to be chemical poisoning and burns. For more see my envirosite articles on the spill from last year.

Anyway, information is only so valuable. Taking action is the key to this disaster. Whereas people in the Gulf could move away, or stay off the water, we can't avoid downwind radiation. Now as small as the risk may be, it's the absence of information coming out of our government that rightfully scares us.

This post actually began as a comment on the U.S. government response to Fukushima at OpEdNews.com titled, "Only fact is we are on our own." I cross-posted a recent article there on the Fukushima leaks from my enviro-site (link below.)

~start comment~
"I wrote on the radiation at OpEdNews before (here and here) agree there's a cover-up in play, and that the fallout posed a bigger threat than was being explained in the corporate media.

Just how bad is the radioactive fallout? We know there's some out there, but unless we have our own Geiger counter, how are we to know what's irradiating us?

This lack of information makes us vulnerable. As individuals, it would appear there is little we can do. Even most libertarians would accept that nuclear accidents are not solvable (nor preventable) by individuals but rather a responsibility of the state.

[To quote the author...]"Yet the administration has not provided us with a national supply of KI, or guidance for using it."

I agree with the urgency of the author's message. Nuclear accidents are a disaster that the people are very much forced to depend on government. 

As those resources are stretched--and cuts in budgets add up--I think we owe it to our families to be better prepared.

If there was a silver lining to Katrina, it was to give Americans a preview of what to expect in the event of a widespread disaster. Inadequate responses are to be expected. We can complain rightfully, that gov't has a responsibility but if it lacks the capacity to react, the accident moves on to "disaster status."

I think the Deepwater Horizon typified this helplessness. Let the maintenance degrade, let the regulators get "captured" by Big Oil hookers and free drugs and a crisis is inevitable. Same with cutting banking regs.

The inadequacy of the Fedgov response is an opportunity for the private sector. Naomi Klein has called this "disaster capitalism."

I've heard that with nukes, power companies must make some safety shortcuts in order to be profitable. In other words, if they do everything they can to make nukes safe, then they'll lose money. That's hardly a bullish indicator for this industry.

While the Deepwater was doomed due to profit motive, I guesss Fukushima was destined to fail based on the proximity to the ocean."
~End Comment~

Just how quickly would the government response degrade? First, there's the sheer number of incidents to manage in a disaster. Communication problems abound. In 9-11, we saw a failure to coordinate radio frequency and provide the right equipment to emergency response personnel.

Then there are people who are completely unprepared. They may not anticipate a crisis nor its combined effect. Elderly loosing medicine, for instance. Or tourists and the such, who can't evacuate. For more on the "golden horde," see the survivalist perspective below.

Much of the deterioration in the response can be attributed to human error in making bad decisions. For instance, people might stay to try and weather a hurricane, then back out and request assistance.

Or it could be like hundreds of motorists stranded on Lake Shore Drive in a recent snowstorm. They were explicitly to stay off the road but used it anyway.

Like other recent tragedies, there's now a sustained pattern of government neglect. I'm not going as far as to say there's a conspiracy afoot, but the bankers' bailout in 2008 showed, that given the right level of political influence in Washington, the private sector could exploit any tragedy. Nuclear leaks may be too politically unattractive, compared to post-war reconstruction, for instance. There's nothing good created out of protection, little to show for the vast expenses.

I would argue that we the people have a right to know the threat posed by the leaks. If people don't prepare, then they choose to trust their government.

Cynicism is well-placed. By not trusting the Official Explanation (whatever the crisis), we're more prone towards self-sufficiency, which has become something of a lost art in America.

Many of us simply don't have the stamina to raise our own food, store enough properly, and handle the physical end of a homestead-type existence. So we've become dependent on our roads, our sewers, our way of life can't sustain itself without cheap fuel. We've grown accustomed to having anything we want available to buy. Without power, or our credit cards, we're made mostly powerless.

The corollary of being dependent is to put trust into government to provide for us what we can't for ourselves. In times of crisis, this faith is misplaced. As systems on which we've grown to rely break down, we're bound to find ourselves dealing with a new reality.

Of course a energy crisis alone can't end America, it can end American as we know it, what survivalists might call TEOTWAKI: the end of the world as we know it. Rather than a deconstruction, the lifestyle would shift towards a simpler existence, marked with hard physical work for many. Rather than base our existence on the automobile alone, we'd be drawn to more primitive forms of transportation. Economic might similarly depart from traditional definitions as mechanisms like barter and alternative currencies--like work-for-time credit--replace a fiat currency decimated by overspending.

Now many of us wouldn't choose a frontier lifestyle. Not of our own free will at least. People would more likely sit around and wait for someone else to serve their problems. Some things would change but remain. Commerce/trade would persist into what some might call the End Times, kind of like the movie Eli, which I reviewed here last year.

I think the Mad Max series of movies typifies the kind of societal breakdown that could occur. We'd go from a system of justice to a society that's at the mercy of its own fragility. At this first stage, police would find themselves outnumbered by gangs. We're seeing this along the Mexican American border--no one wants to oppose the gangs.

The next stage is a more thorough decapitation of society. Authority wouldn't flow from the top-down but rather by those with the most power, who use it to increase their strength and popularity largely at the expense of weaker groups and the disorganized. Small feudal groups grapple with each other for control of dwindling resources.

The we get to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, where a twisted form of order is established. In some ways we can see the seeds of our future self-destruction in the rudimentary reestablishment of that society. Fights are settled in an enclosed arena, where the bloodthirsty madness of the group turns even the mentally handicapped into objects of public sport.

Yes, we've regained some stability by that time, but the society is simply too warped to be worth saving, again, from self-destruction. What fell off the wall can't be put back together again. Or can it? Should it be saved, or will a better one come of the former's destruction? Popular support sides with optimism, for instance at the end of the movie Eli, where historians assemble knowledge lost during the apocalypse.

Whatever the final outcome, it's a scary thought to consider the enormous suffering that accompanies a End Times-like event. Mind you that I'm not saying we're in the End Times, but rather than apocryphal literature and perspectives created in popular fiction may turn out to be accurate in some respects. In our age, End Times fantasy offers relief, a form of entertainment.

Instead of ignoring any possibility of risk (and thereby justify the lazy approach to do nothing about it), it's better to prepare for something bad to happen. The alternative is to accept what happens to you, like the half million Japanese in refugee camps. And if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. Sure, there may not be a fault line where you life, but nuclear plants can leak, even far away.

A big downside of preparing is dealing with those who haven't prepared. I find the survivalist perspective entertaining in this regard. Yes, it does dehumanize the golden horde--not unlike a zombie shooter--but I guess this is the price that must be paid to keep yourself safe...or so they believe.
The original article by Brian T. at survivalblog.com explains:

"Misconception number five:  Needy hungry hordes will come from town.  Not likely, when local resources (read: booze and junk food), and the aid from whatever governmental response is exhausted they will do nothing.  By nothing I mean nothing that need concern you. They will sit in a refugee center or at home and pass the time playing cards, talking but essentially just waiting. Certainly the burning and looting that started seconds after the beginning of the event will increase until there is nothing left to burn or steal.  When food and clean bedding all run out they are not likely to walk out of town any more then than before. They are weaker by that time and as out of shape as most of us. They have rarely walked any distance at all in their adult lives and are unlikely to start now. The biggest reason is that they are psychologically predisposed, brainwashed, to wait for rescue and will stay in town.  It is easier to wait and thus easier to make hunger somebody else’s problem. With no gas and no desire to do any tiresome walking means you are not going to see many if any at your BOL(Bug Out Location.)  Most will sit and if they move at all they will head for another urban area rumored to be better, particularly if they are being trucked there by the National Guard or other entity..."

I'm not a survivalist nor ascribe to this opinion, but with so many real life horror stories, who can afford to ignore this zombification theme? On the other hand, I've been reading that interpersonal relations will become more necessary during End Times. Your life could depend on that doctor you know, or your replenishing food supply, or just in making a mutual support society in order to deal with the many issues of that period.

At the very least, those who've put in the work required to protect themselves can enjoy the benefits. The unprepared meanwhile will be like locusts, hungry and desperate. I read the following from a recent article on a survivalist site:

"the "golden hoards" actually are...your friends, family and unprepared next door neighbors and theirs, and theirs, and theirs. They will be the ones at your doorstep, if they know you have food and other supplies.
Can you turn them away? Will you shoot them if they won't leave? Will you risk sacrificing the lives of your family by joining the rest of the lemmings in the G.O.O.D. traffic jam? These are the big questions that need to be dealt with by those who are conditioning their minds for the realities of such events."

We don't see this deterioration in Japan. Survivalists would argue that's only because the response can be sustained for so long and that government-provided resources will quickly run out in a real crisis.

I saw this comment by Pogue on a post about the tsunami which exposes the schadenfreude some preppers might feel when crisis hits the unprepared:
"I love watching people panic over nothing. Ever notice how bad people freak out over a winter storm? They get the survival french toast makings (eggs, milk, bread) and go nuts. And ever see how many people wait until the last minute to evacuate ahead of a hurricane they’ve known about for a week. A disaster in the US would see total chaos. Hell, when Homestead was flattened in 1993, the people there rioted when the USG didn’t rescue them within 24 hours."

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