There is no denying that in the highly globalised world we live in today a monumental event like the Japanese earthquake is emotive for us all in one way or another. On a personal level, as news of the natural disaster broke on my social media feed on Friday, March 11, my immediate thought was of the few varsity friends of mine who had opted to teach English in far-flung regions in the Asian country for a few years instead of holding down an office job in Johannesburg. As I scoured image after image of the unfathomable catastrophe, I prayed their decision had not ended in misadventure.
But over the course of the weekend, as I tracked tweets, I came across a reaction to this unfathomable event that was quite dismaying. The global trending topic list at this time included “Pearl Harbour”. It would seem that there were those among the human race whose first reaction was to conclude that the devastation and loss of thousands of lives as a result of the natural disaster was no more than karmic retribution. Apparently it had all been spurred on by a supposedly jocular tweet by Family Guy scriptwriter Alec Sulkin, who wrote: “If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google ‘Pearl Harbor death toll,'” with reference to imperial Japan’s sneak attack on US forces in Hawaii in 1941. I chose not to provide my own retort on Twitter because, as is the inherent nature of the SEO based virtual world we live in, it would only serve to perpetuate the ignorance.
However, such comments really are an indication of how little we understand of the extent to which our contemporary states have become irrevocably interconnected on a global scale. Japan now has to contend with a nuclear crisis that threatens to cause a widespread meltdown that has been described by some to be on the scale of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. Following the Japanese quake, reports confirmed an explosion inside the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on Saturday morning and the country’s experts are still struggling to keep the reactor fuel cool enough to prevent a further explosion. Consider, too, that in the case of the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident, four hundred times more radioactive material is said to have been released than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
Add to that the implications of this on the global economy which according to a CNN business report is still “reeling from the staggering human and economic toll from Japan’s 9.0-measure earthquake. […] The Japanese nuclear plant that exploded is equipped with reactors designed by Dow component General Electric. Its shares fell 2.5 per cent Tuesday.”
And just to bring it all home for consumers everywhere, the majority of high-value items such computer chips and technological wares as well as motor parts are manufactured in Japan. The extent of the disruption that the nuclear crisis may cause has not yet been measured. However, my point remains that, in today’s world, it is not a case of the Butterfly Effect. The increasing number of environmental catastrophes such these (lest we forget the Haiti quake of January 2010) has put into play the notion of a world that may suffer an implicit and possibly far-reaching domino effect.
Ultimately, the lasting regret of events of this scale will always be the loss of human life, but so too will we mourn the kind of attitude, displayed by “tweeps” this week, that does little to reinforce the faith we all have in the survival and evolution of humanity.