When I heard the news about the post-earthquake crisis at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, I was dismayed — but, alas, not terribly surprised. For decades now, we’ve all heard experts warning that such a nuclear accident could and would happen (again), and that the radioactive mess would be very difficult or impossible to clean up, even at great expense.
No one really knows how much will be spent trying to deal with the Fukushima disaster, or what the ultimate environmental, human-health and social costs will be. In economic terms, probably hundreds of billions of dollars. But, of course, that doesn’t take into account the fact that much of the damage can’t ever truly be “fixed” or put right.
It’s troubling that in our species’ quest for plentiful energy — and the improved “quality of life” that energy promises — we’ve become inclined to embrace solutions (like fossil fuels and nuclear power) that threaten not just our own health, but the well-being of our communities and our planet.
If there’s one thing disasters like Fukushima remind us of, though, it’s that energy issues are also, at core, human-health issues — which is why creating more sustainable, environmentally friendly energy solutions for our homes, businesses and communities must become a greater public-health priority.
Meanwhile, I think it’s worth remarking on how many of the mistakes we’ve made with our natural-energy resources closely mirror the mistakes we’ve made managing our own personal stores of energy and vitality.
For example, during much the same time we’ve been playing fast and loose with fossil fuels, carelessly harvesting and burning them in ways that produce all kinds of pollutants and greenhouse gases, we’ve also been playing fast and loose with our food supply, rampantly producing and consuming products that, when processed by our bodies, produce a lot of inflammation and toxic waste.
During the same era we’ve been placing bets on nuclear energy as the great atomic hope, we’ve also been increasingly relying on pharmaceuticals and surgical interventions to address the symptoms of lifestyle-related diseases. And in the process, much as with nuclear power, we’ve created an inefficient industrial system (healthcare) so mired in its own byproducts (high costs, risks, inefficiencies and troublesome side effects) that people are increasingly inclined to scrap it and start over.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Because slowly but surely, during the same period that more of us have been arguing for the development of more sustainable and renewable energy choices, more of us have also been arguing for a more sustainable and integrated approach to personal well-being.
We’ve begun to understand that if we want to enjoy abundant energy, we have to eat well, move well and live well. If we want to enjoy healthy bodies, we also need to create and preserve healthy, stable environments where they can thrive.
Let us hope that the tragedy of Fukushima will inspire more of us to invest time and resources in developing safe, renewable, responsible energy solutions. And in the meantime, let us learn to take better responsibility for our own energy, too. Because I suspect that until we better master the art of cultivating renewable, sustainable health and vitality for ourselves (read more on that throughout this issue), we’ll have a hard time respecting the principles on which all sustainable energy production depends.
Sustainable systems, by definition, do not deplete or undermine the resources on which they rely. Perhaps if we can learn to manage our bodies in ways that avoid that sort of depletion and enhance our well-being instead, we can learn to manage our communal sources of energy better, too.