Holy Tsunami, Batman! We need some super-heroes
Point of View
The 2011 Japanese tsunami isn’t over. Not by a long shot. The dramatic events we witnessed in March 2011 didn’t end when the waters receded. In fact, when the Tsunami washed ashore in Japan, it took refineries, warehouses, rats, cats and dogs, trucks and boats and humans and just about every imaginable by-product of human civilization with it in and dragged it into the ocean.
This mass of organic putrescence, chemicals, hydrocarbons, plastic, wood, metal and minerals is moving surely and inevitably toward the Pacific Coast of North America. The debris mass will inundate the Pacific Coast and every nook and cove thereof. I am including a graphic from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) that represents a computer model of the trajectory of the debris.
The leading edge of the mass already hit Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska where the now famous soccer balls were discovered. Highly buoyant debris, like soccer balls, move well ahead of the heavier and more dense aggregate, but, as surely as the movement of the currents and tides, scientists are predicting over the next few years the impact will fully inundate the West Coast.
A recent story on the debris impact on Montague Island in Prince William Sound perfectly frames the magnitude of the challenges we are facing. In an article by Naomi Klouda of the “Homer Times,” Chris Pallister of the Gulf of Alaska Keepers offers the following perspective:
“What we are seeing is magnitudes more. In my opinion, this is the single greatest environmental pollution event that has ever hit the west coast of North America… The slow-motion aspects of it have fooled an unwitting public. It far exceeds the Santa Barbara or Exxon Valdez oil spills in gross tonnage and also geographic scope.” (Emphasis added.)
Alaska’s Senator Mark Begich is well-positioned to urge action on the key agencies who will be in charge of the response: the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA.
Something clearly must be done. If the estimate of the Alaska Keepers is even close, that the shore cleanup from the debris on Montague Island will cost in the neighborhood of $10 to $12 million, then the total cleanup cost of the Pacific coastline will run into the 10s of billions of dollars.
Stakeholders. Big Oil.
One of the stakeholders in the tsunami debris impact on the Pacific Coast is the oil companies and their chemical subsidiaries. Most refineries, storage and transfer facilities are all located on the coast; that is where the supertankers deliver the oil and chemicals that Japan buys from the United States. The huge market for the product in Japan heavily influences our own debate over the future of Alaska’s natural gas resource. The MAPCO & Williams Brother refinery in the Interior of Alaska used to ship naphtha via the railroad to southcentral Alaska for export to Japan. The huge petrochemical and hydrocarbon-based industrial infrastructure in Japan is coastal-based and largely involving U.S. commercial interests. As barrels of oil, refined products, bleach and chemicals come crashing and breaching ashore, the states’ and the federal government will be turning not only to existing trust funds but will seek to extract more from the source industries whose products will be polluting the West Coast.
It is, therefore, in the interest of those industries to support interception of the mass before the bulk of it hits the shoreline over the next 36 months.
The public relations disaster for the energy and chemical companies that will surely follow such an impact is easy to contemplate. Such events would have huge public policy, tax and economic consequences for those companies.
Stakeholders. Big Government.
About the only thing that We The People can agree about these days is that government needs to be able to respond to disaster. We may not all believe in public health care or public welfare, or even public education, but most of us agree that government has a critical role in national defense and disaster response. When government fails at even that basic level of service, then the political consequences for those in charge of the legislative and administrative branches can be devastating. The failure of the government’s response to Katrina, for example, may have been the single event that defined the Bush administration. The negative impact on Congress was significant as well. Shortly after Katrina, the public approval of BOTH congress and the president hit historic lows.
It is, therefore in the interest of both the President and Congress to support interception and proactive efforts to keep this slow-moving disaster from wreaking it’s certain consequences
Heroes or Heels?
This is one of those rare opportunities for political adversaries to declare a truce and focus on a single, predictable event; here is a chance for industry and government to partner and bring resources and know how to bear upon a complex, challenging but manageable situation before it becomes a crisis.
Can we do this? Can we prove to the world (and ourselves) that we are able to apply human ingenuity to allay a natural disaster made worse by human commerce? If we can, we will prove that we are worthy stewards of the planet. If we cannot, then we are foreshadowing our well-deserved extinction.
Please send your comments on this to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.