16th March 2011
Words fail to describe the phenomenal power of nature
The sheer power of plate tectonics boggles the human mind. I know that the Earth is a tiny planet in a tiny star system in a remote arm of the Milky Way among 100 billion other stars, with the Milky Way being just one of 100 billion similar galaxies (please do see Hubble 3D if you haven't yet seen it – nothing more beautiful) – but we humans are used to leading our lives on a different scale altogether, on its surface – which we claim to own!
We argue about "property" over this Earth, we even claim we own ourselves! (we who can't create a mere bacteria from scratch, claim we own our body!) Such a joke are we as a species sometimes – arguing, fighting, killing over trifles. There would be far less conflict if we didn't take ourselves so seriously, as if WE (!!) owned the Earth! (yes, we do, through the classical liberal state, but that's a different matter altogether)
The truth is that we know not who we are and from whence we come; nor where we are going. Even if we get the material science underlying such questions right we still don't have any substantive answer about ANYTHING of importance. We are forced to make up our own answers, or believe in someone else's answers or imaginings.
The Earth, which has been circling the Sun for billions of years doesn't fail to remind us every now and then, that we are mere twigs on its surface; creatures made of stardust, destined – without fail – to mingle with its dust again.
This recent "earthquake itself (not the tsunami) released about 336 megatons of force. That's equivalent of 22400 atom bombs dropped to Hiroshima" (source – not sure how reliable this source is, though!). The power unleashed was truly mind-boggling.
Here's a picture (one of many outstanding photos on CNN) that epitomises the earthquake and tsunami – one can't imagine how a huge yacht can be flung on top of a building. And notice the total devastation around. (See also this time lapse depiction of the earthquake sequence.)
When the Earth "behaves" in this manner – very powerfully and disruptively – we aren't able to put in words the overpoweringly humbling sense of our limitations we feel. In the face of these powerful events – which are perhaps like tiny scratches on the earth's crust – much of what we talk and think about must necessarily take a back seat.
And yet we have to live within ourselves. We have to recover and fight back, and advance further. It will never be possible to eliminate this huge force of nature, but maybe we will learn to predict some of its power, and generally to live more safely. Our species has prospered for tens of thousands of years in the face of great odds. We should study these events very carefully to learn more about nature.
The lesson the Japanese teach us: GAMAN.
I was moved deeply by reading about this – the law of 'gaman' – that the Japanese follow. They won't even cry in public. They do know how to put their philosophy into practice. Three cheers to the Japanese for setting such high standards for the rest of us to follow. And of course, our prayers are with them today.
The nuclear issue
The nightmare of Japan won't end soon, it would appear. Nuclear energy is normally the safest form of energy in the world. However, Fukushima's reactors are around 40 years old. A normal reactor's life of around 40 years, so these are one of the world's oldest reactors, and clearly included some design features that failed and allowed the current problem to occur. I am sure later reactors (including future reactors) will be significantly safer.
No nuclear explosion is going to occur
"Based on what we understand, the reactor has been shut down, in the sense that all of the control rods have been inserted—which means there's no longer a nuclear reaction" (Scientific American). The worst case scenario now is a extensive leakage of radioactivity that can potentially harm a few thousand people – in the long run, through cancer (that's what I gather, based on outcomes of a similar incident in Chernobyl – the worst incident so far – although I have read that this particular case won't go that far; fingers crossed).
Despite this incident, I continue to support nuclear technology as the world's safest form of energy production, and believe it will continue to get safer with each passing year, through learnings from the few (very rare) mishaps that have so far occurred.