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http://www.npr.org/2011/04/05/135118987/sushi-science-fear-not-radiation-seen-as-risk

I thought this article was a perfect example of what we have talked about regarding risk perception in relationship to scientific “facts” or what regulatory agencies are telling the public. The article explains how fish in Japan has been cheaper because of a widely perceived fear it is contaminated due to Fukashima. The arguments against this are 1) There are no fishing vessels allowed anywhere near the plant, so any fish living there with the highest levels of radiation will not be eaten 2) The iodine that has leaked into the ocean is primarily iodine-131, which has a relatively short half life of 8 days and 3) The ocean is so vast that radioactive materials are heavily diluted by the time they travel even a few miles.

The article says that Kusakabe, director of the Nakaminato Laboratory for Marine Radio ecology, says the biggest threat to the Japanese fishing industry right now isn’t radiation, it’s fear. “Most people now think, ‘Oh, it’s very dangerous to eat fish in Japan or fish around this coast.’ But I think it’s very safe. So now is your chance to eat fish, because it’s cheap,” he says. From the article from class, “Living in a Risk World Society,” “risk ‘is not reducible to the product of probability of occurrence multiplied with the intensity and scope of potential harm’. Rather, it is a socially constructed phenomenon, in which some people have a greater capacity to define risks than others” (333). This is a very adequate description of risk perception. It is constantly about the hype, hysteria, and distress one exhibits in a situation that may be very risky, but may also not be a huge deal, and not affect one poorly at all. This is a sort of case where the facts and science is relatively ignored, and people are more ruled by emotion and the bandwagon paranoia. The economic indicator of fish prices being less expensive is also HUGE in constructing societies perception of how risky the fish is. In a way, the hysteria being stretched to affect the economics of fish prices is humorous because it has little to base itself off of besides society’s perception and scare, but also terrifying when one thinks of how serious this risk is playing into society when it even affects economics and ignored the science.

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/16/136280398/nuclear-nations-turn-to-natural-gas-and-renewables

We hear time and time again how economics rule all, yet it is still fascinating to study examples of this overwhelmingly true claim.

Before Fukashima, 14 new nuclear reactors were planned in Japan. In Germany (who earlier was famously anti-nuclear) as well as the US, plans to install nuclear plants were also in place. However, among the extensive consequences of Fukashima, some tie into the future of nuclear policy in Japan and other countries. Due to scares of nuclear power’s consequences, the article (link above) cites the prediction that because of the large quantities of natural gas recently discovered, low-cost has made it the next best alternative and replacement energy fuel.

Map of nuclear worldwide:

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/16/136288669/a-nuclear-powered-world

THIS IS RIDICULOUS. This continues to run the risk of a leak or spill and continues to release fossil fuels into the atmosphere-precisely what we should be avoiding.

WHEN WILL WE LEARN? Isn’t now the time to seize the opportunity to invest in more responsible renewable energy sources?

The NPR article I looked at for this post, quotes Philip Sharp at Resources for the Future, with a question that I would like to pose on this blog post: “To what degree [are] we as a people … to accept that some of these things are high risk, and how far are we willing to go to tolerate those high risks?”

I very strongly believe our economic system (at least nationally) has the ability to sufficiently and wisely invest in renewable energies and receive positive outcomes from doing so. It is a matter of believing in our system and ourselves, which is of course at times difficult to do. We know investing in solar, wind, and other renewables is the responsible (and many would agree moral) thing to do, so we must go for it. But let’s face it; we need government support to do so. To get government support, we need an energy overhaul, and it will need to come from a more unified demand and outcry from society. While the government is, to an extent, controlled by lobbyists, large corporations, etc., it cannot and will never be able to ignore a strong and unified cry for change by a significant majority of its people.

Here is a US map of renewable energy goals and the actual percentage of renewable energy each state uses.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129183207

My friend and I arrived 15 minutes late, so maybe I missed an important piece, but the entire film was centered upon wonder, fear, and was very abstract. The film was about the world’s first permanent repository, called Onkalo, in Finland. Its purpose is to store high-level radioactive waste, a terrifying byproduct of nuclear power. Onkalo is a complex and massive (about 5km) underground system of tunnels being carved out of solid rock, and must last 100,000 years, because that is how long the waste remains hazardous.

From the scientists riding around on motorized scooter-type machines down hallways, to the opera in the dark tunnels at the end, they were clearly trying to dramatize and emphasize the main messages and questions of the film: “What will happen with the waste? How will future civilizations know not to open Onkalo? Can we communicate to them not to open it? Or should we just leave it unmarked, in hopes to avoid what detrimental effects curiosity can sometimes bring?” The theme was presented with many emotion-provoking shots of workers delving deeper and deeper into the dark underworld, our monstrous machines cutting deeper and deeper into the “bowels of the earth,” as well as question after question regarding our complete incomprehensibility of what our descendents will be like compared to us, and if there even will be human life far from now. I had thought it would be more of an educational nuclear documentary, and was hoping to hear interviews from the workers of the tunnels, gain knowledge of the pros and cons of nuclear, its popularity, waste statistics, etc. Instead, I was thrown into a sort of physical and metaphorical dark tunnel, which I had to attempt to comprehend concepts such as time, infinity, and morality. I came out of it without a strong opinion, and mostly just pissed off that we use nuclear power, and after all these issues like Onkalo and Fukashima, we will only continue to do so.

This film centered upon instigating fear in its viewers, although my friend and I had our heads cocked in confusion or were suppressing laughs most of the time. But who knows? Maybe that is our way of dealing with questions and concepts this serious and distant.

The video game, “Super Mario Sunshine,” (intro video above) is an example of a commoditized product, which represents the presence of toxicity in our environment. It starts with Mario, Toad, and Peach on a journey to a tropical island, complete with all the amenities one could desire; resort facilities, an amusement park, etc. However, when they get there, there appears to be a spill of some sort in the way, causing the plane to take a rough landing. One of the characters describes the sludge in his question, “What’s this icky paint-like stuff?” Another yells, “It’s moving,” while another warns them not to touch it. Mario attempts to take it on with FLUDD (Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device). With FLUDD on his back, Mario runs around and shoots water at the waste, which then takes on a sort of monstrous shape. The video goes on to show Mario in a court room being accused by characters (who I’m assuming to be native because of their grass skirts) of releasing the “paint-like substance” and endangering the way of life.

The game was released in 2002 and has sold 5.5 million copies. It has great reviews, and my immediate thought is how I’m glad this game is out there. It reinforces the idea of pollution=bad and gives long-time hero Mario the job of cleaning it up. It shows how the island has a “dark veil” around it because of the pollution, not that life is going on as usual. The native people are being affected and want to stop it. It’s semi-disturbing that pollution is such an ordinary occurrence that cleaning it can essentially be the entire focus of the video game, but I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. I think it’s using our conventional tools and using a pathway to access people that is sure to work: video games. Furthermore, those playing these video games aren’t very likely environmentalists (for the most part) so it’s not preaching to the choir by any means.

To me, an intriguing part of the novel, White Noise, is the concept and relationship of technology to society and individuals. At the very end of chapter 10, Jack goes to an ATM and has a strange, but uplifting and confidence-reaching experience. When he checks his balance, the ATM reports the amount he thought he had, giving him a feeling of confirmation and making him feel at ease. He speaks to the relationship with the ATM and its technology by stating, “The system was invisible, which makes it all the more impressive, all the more disquieting to deal with. But we were in accord, at least for now. The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies (46).”

However, in the middle part of the book, Jack, and furthermore society, are nowhere near harmony. During the toxic event, technology takes a turn against the people in the area, firstly through the chemical output, but secondly by the way technology intensifies the event. During the buildup before the family flees from their home, the radio is described as narrating the catastrophe’s beginning and presenting a buildup of fear.  As Heinrich listens to the radio he reports, “The radio said a tank car derailed (108), the radio calls it (a heavy black mass in the air) a feathery plume, part of the interstate is closed (109)”, etc. The radio also tells of symptoms of the toxicity, which the girls begin to show. Technology, in this case, is keeping those at risk informed, yet minute by minute creating chaos and fear.

When Jack climbs to the attic, he uses his son’s binoculars and describes what he sees. “Floodlights swept across…army helicopters hovered at various points, shining additional lights…colored lights…the tank car…fumes rising…coupling device from a second car…fire engines…sirens, voices calling through bullhorns, a layer of radio static causing small warps…other men in bright yellow Mylex suits and respirator masks…carrying death-measuring instruments…snow blowers sprayed a pink substance toward the tank car and the surrounding landscape (113).” This image of fear provoked from this description is nothing without technology, from the radio to the lights, to the tanks, to the “death-measuring instruments.” In my opinion, especially from this description, it is as though technology adds to the hysteria, catalyzing and spreading it, yet all in good intentions, intentions to combat the technological fail and protect the people.