Truth, beaches and government

Posted by Ken Campbell May 24, 2012 0 Comment 800 views

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” 
George Orwell.

Steve and I just spent a couple of days in Port Angeles, where we attended a presentation and a workshop on tsunami debris that featured Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer and a whole bunch of Power Point slides on what we can expect to find on our trip this summer. How the flotsam travels across the ocean, where it is likely to hit and what kind of debris we’re likely to encounter: all these and more were discussed.

I spoke with a DNR employee who said that, on a day trip last weekend to Shi Shi Beach, he saw “more than a hundred” black oyster buoys, a number that strongly suggests that the debris is here already. Ebbesmeyer repeated the assertion that what is coming ashore now will continue and that the really big concentrations will get to the Washington coast in October. The situation is bad and we can expect it to get worse before it gets better.

I went up to Seattle yesterday to tape a segment of the NPR show, “The Story,” with Dick Gordon, about the Ikkatsu Expedition and the goals and expectations we have for the trip. I broke down the story of the tsunami debris into three components and discussed its environmental aspects, its scientific perspective and the personal or human interest element. The environmental side of the story is that there was a 400-mile section of Japanese coast that was hit by the tsunami and the debris that washed off the shore and is headed in this direction is stretched out over a swath of ocean equivalent to two Californias placed end to end.

The scientific aspect, at least in my mind, is the story of predictive models of when and where the debris is likely to come ashore. Studies such as ours will focus on quantifying the flotsam and amassing the data needed to come up with effective action plans.

The personal side of the story has the potential to be the most powerful. Some of the items that will be found will be able to be connected with actual living human beings or, in the event that the owners perished in the disaster, with the surviving family members. Whatever the item may be – a basketball, a piece of a house, a keepsake of one sort or another – the specific item may be all that’s left to connect those people involved with a part of their lives that has otherwise disappeared entirely.

I got home to find an email from Steve that linked to local news coverage of senate hearings where a representative from NOAA is on record as saying that,  “We haven’t been able to find any debris.” The article went on to talk about how it might be advantageous for the Federal Government to take this approach because any cleanup will be expensive and there simply isn’t the money to deal with a problem of this magnitude. Best to just pretend it’s not there.

(Based on the vitriol and ignorance displayed in the comments section of the article, it seems many citizens feel the same way. It looks a lot like the games of hide-and-seek I played with Micah when he would simply close his eyes and think that I wouldn’t be able to see him. But he was one year-old then. Some of the commenters don’t seem to have gotten much past that point in their intellectual development, and they certainly don’t know how to express themselves without going all Fox News on the subject.)

In retrospect, I should have included a fourth element of the tsunami saga when I talked with Dick Gordon: the political side. I really didn’t see it coming, which I see now as being incredibly naive. To have a government representative 3000 miles away talking about how no debris is being found at the same time that people on the beaches are finding debris in large numbers is a disconnect that can only come from political myopia and the obfuscation of ulterior motives. 

I’m still approaching this story from the standpoint of the first three aspects I mentioned. But I’m a whole lot more aware of the fourth one now as well.

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