Thursday, 17 March 2011

Words from Japan that hopefully can inspire

I just got this mail from my long term friend Peter David Pedersen who lives in Japan. He wrote that the text could be spread and I think as many as possible should read this so here it is:


Ogoto-onsen, near Kyoto March 18th, 2011

I am writing to you from a hotel along the shore
of Biwa-ko, Japan's largest lake some 528 km west
(and slightly south) of the Fukushima nuclear
power station. Fresh snow is covering the
landscape in what would, normally, be a very
idyllic setting.

Right now, it feels absolutely surreal,
as if all the earthquake destruction in Eastern
Japan combined with the man-made specter of
nuclear destruction were scenes out a
Hollywood movie entitled "Twin Disasters." But
this is no movie, and whether there will be any
form of "happy" ending to the nuclear malaise
remains entirely unpredictable.

The Japanese government "cannot" talk openly and
honestly to the Japanese public about the
potential dangers in a worst case scenario at
Fukushima, primarily because of fears of panic in
the 30 million population in the world's largest
metropolitan area, Tokyo + Yokohama.

Personally, I have over the last 10 years or so
repeatedly experienced the attempts of TEPCO
(Tokyo Electric Power Co.) to control information
on nuclear power in this country. For eighteen months,
from 2000-2001, I anchored the main news program at MX
TV, Tokyo's local TV station, and was told by the
producer that "since TEPCO is a sponsor of our program,
I would prefer if you do not openly criticize nuclear power."

On another occasion, I was writing a piece for a
well-known publication for 5-6th grade school kids on
the environment, this time being told by the
chief editor that, "TEPCO is one of the sponsors
of our magazine. While I would like you to write
on the enviroment, please don't be critical of
nuclear power."

On a third occasion, not directly related to TEPCO,
I was interviewed by the Yomiuri Newspaper,
one of Japan's top two newspapers in terms of
circulation, about the 1978 demonstrations throughout
Denmark against the possible introduction of nuclear
power in which I participated as a child. When the
interview appeared in the newspaper, my phrase
"demonstrations against nuclear power" had been altered
to "demonstrations for renewable energy." This was
not what I had said, and when I called the journalist
in charge, he sheepishly apologized, saying that "I did
not dare to write anything negative about nuclear power
lest I should invite the wrath of my editor (boss)."

I feel so very sorry for the people who are,
right now, sacrificing their future health, and
some of them their immediate lives, working to
stop the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi
Nuclear Power Station. They may be described as
"heroes" - and surely their efforts as such are
heroic - but in a wider perspective they are
victims of an industry in which the brainwashing
of contractors and workers to believe that what
they work with is safe has been pervasive.

In its entirety, the present situation in Eastern
Japan and the Tokyo Metropolitan area has
revealed the amazing fragility of modern
civilization. All lifelines - water, transport,
electricity, food supplies - have been severed or
disrupted in Eastern Japan, and one of the
world's largest cities, Tokyo, was yesterday
afternoon (March 17th), in danger of a large
scale, sudden blackout as a cold spell of weather
drove up electricity consumption close to the limit of
maximum supply. A good friend of mine, working at
Tohoku University not far from the epicenter of the
earthquake, called to tell how he finally, after six days,
managed to leave Sendai (a city of more than a million
on Japan's (Honshu's) east coast), driving to Tokyo in
a 16 hour ordeal. No gasoline being available
anywhere on the route, he barely managed to reach Tokyo, his
gas tank drying up. More frightening than the drive, though,
was how food and water were virtually impossible to obtain
in the city center of Sendai. "Emergency supplies have
been distributed to the schools where tens of thousands of
people take refuge, but nothing seemed to reach the city
of Sendai and shelves in supermarkets were almost completely
empty. For the first time, I had the feeling of a threat to
my life because of an inability to buy food," he told me.
My friend made it, but older and weaker people are dying - or
will die - as the crucial lifelines of a hypermodern
society have been devastated.

The question, obviously, is what we can learn,
not only in Japan, but in modern society as a
whole, from this experience. It remains to be
seen whether we will, truly, learn anything at
all. To me, there seem to be at least three major
lessons. The first is the question of how or if
lifestyles and values will change. The thing that
the Japanese have been praised for throughout the
first week of this terrible disaster, has not
been "technology" or "financial strength"; it has
been the strong spirit, the patience, the human
qualities of the people here that has touched
many around the world.
Money and shiny goods in temples of consumption
have carried absolutely no value for the people
here in the last week. Is there a chance that we
may, now, see and act on the emptiness of useless
consumerism? A chance there must be, I hope,
although I do at the same time fear that once
things settle down, Japan and the world will go
on as if nothing had happened.

The second lesson is the danger of concentration
of population into huge metropolises. Although
the epicenter of the M9.0 earthquake was hundreds
of kilometers northeast of Tokyo, the city was
paralyzed, streets clogged, subways inoperational,
phone lines dead. The staff at my office could
not get home or get in touch with their family.
What if - and this could happen any day - the
earthquake had hit Tokyo straight on?
I have not the courage to think of the scale of
disaster or the number of human lives that would
have been lost. As urbanization continues at
great speed in the world's population centers,
the utter fragility of the 21st century
megacity poses serious questions. Is there a
way to answer this question in a more humane and
sustainable manner than we are experiencing today?
There must be.

The third lesson is the folly of making ourselves
dependent on energy production from large scale
and extremely dangerous power stations, where
no workable plans exist to control worst case scenarios.
Huge costs will be incurred in Japan over the next several
decades to clean up Fukushima. Huge costs were incurred
to build the plant in the first place. Surely, this money
could have been used more wisely. Hopefully, the lesson
taken from Fukushima will, finally, make the idea
of non-violent, non-toxic, decentralized energy
sources the mainstream policy and business choice
around the world.

If we can learn the lessons, there is hope for
the future.

Peter David Pedersen
Chief Executive
E-Square Inc.
Tokyo, JAPAN