What it really comes down to is that our monekysphere just can't accommodate things that happen to people in far off lands. Hell, it can barely accommodate what happens in the next town over. In case you have no freaking clue what I'm talking about with the monkeysphere, you really should click the link and give it a read. I stumbled across it a couple months ago and it pretty much hits the issue right on the nose as to a key facet of human nature and why we'll never fix problems like The Tragedy of the Commons.
I was listening to a NPR segment earlier today talking about the aftermath of the Touhoku earthquake in Japan, mainly focusing on the fallout (ha ha) over the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. Japan gets a huge proportion of its electrical energy from nuclear power, generating almost 50,000 Megawatts a year or 30% of its total usage. Ever since the meltdown, the public has turned on nuclear power in a big way. All of a sudden we're back to the no nukes rallies of the 60's and it's going to have drastic effects upon the rest of the world if the movement grows. The NPR host was saying that if Japan switched from nuclear back to traditional methods of generating electricity through natural gas, it would increase the amount currently consumed by the world market by 20%. The corresponding spike in energy prices would be tremendous and God only knows the repercussions. It's just another example of the monkeysphere and general human ignorance. Even if you say that nuclear is dangerous you have to consider this is the worst 'disaster' since Chernobyl and that was 25 years ago. The amount of good nuclear power has brought over that timespan so immensely dwarfs the downside that it's almost not worth measuring. If global warming alarmists are to be believed, then burning that natural gas or whatever to generate electricity is inevitably dooming us all anyway, but the specter of nuclear Armageddon is just something you can't wipe away with facts or logic.
Anyway, back to the earthquake and tsunami. I found this spiffy picture on wiki which documents the height that the tsunami reached at various points around Japan that day. At its highest, it was a 30 foot wave which basically scrubbed the land clean like a huge celestial mop. They say the final death toll is around 16,000 with another 3,000 missing an unaccounted for. I think after a year it's pretty safe to say they're not going to turn up with an amazing story about how they were swept to see on a floating door and took this long to make it back home.
What's really amazing if you think about it is that there is probably no country on earth which could have been better prepared to take an earthquake of this size and then the tsunami. Japanese architecture has required quake proofing for decades and as a island-country, they're generally used to the presence and danger of tsunamis. Even then, the devastation was immense. I'm willing to bet the US wouldn't fair nearly as well if a 9.0 earthquake popped up off the coast of Los Angeles and then hit it with a 30 foot wave. What might be the most amazing story in the end is just how little damage there was compared to what could have been and how little loss of life there was given the circumstances. Of course, what if's and it could have been worse's, aren't exactly something human beings are good at really comprehending either.