Sitting in the shadow of the cooling towers of Three Mile Island along the banks of the Susquehanna River the night before a friend’s wedding is one of the college memories that remains vividly in my mind. The accident had occurred some six years earlier, but seeing those ominous blinking red lights, no doubt to warn low-flying aircraft of the massive towers, left me with an irrational sense of danger. It will be a sad day when we have nothing left to fear. The next year, the Chernobyl disaster took place. This tragedy has results that are still playing out among the millions exposed to the radiation. Perhaps these events explain why Alan Parson Project’s Ammonia Avenue remains among my favorite albums.
While having my oil changed yesterday, the waiting room television was fixated on the story of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, settling it comfortably between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. With anxiety about the year 2012 running amok, many people are looking for signs. Perhaps the most unfortunate meme the Bible has introduced to the world is the Apocalypse. In origin apocalyptic concepts emerged from the Zoroastrian idea that a dualistic change in ages was coming. Believing this world to be under the baleful influence of Angra Mainyu, a day was eventually going to arrive where all this would be turned around and Ahura Mazda would set things right. Christianity borrowed the idea, shrouded it in secrecy, and began an unhealthy interest in the end of all things.
Fukushima Daiichi may feel like the end of the world, but it is not. In fact, all that we know of our planet shows its great resilience. The late Stephen Jay Gould, in his popular book Bully for Brontosaurus, opined that the earth is not as fragile as is often supposed. He notes in the prologue, “Our planet is not fragile at its own time scale, and we, pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of our planetary year, are stewards of nothing in the long run.” Not that we should not attempt to protect our environment – we do that to preserve ourselves and other species – but if we should fail, earth will carry on. Our globe is expected to support life for another 500 million years. Instead of following false positives, we might be better off reminding ourselves that Gaia still has a few tricks up her metaphorical sleeves.