The luxury liner Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in A.D. 1912 from England to America. Before it embarked, the ship’s captain said, “I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”
The captain was convinced that “modern shipbuilding” technology had advanced to a point where “modern” ships were unsinkable.
The man responsible for building the Titanic reportedly declared, “God, Himself, could not sink the Titanic.” That report is probably false. Nevertheless, the sentiment expressed and subsequent sinking of the Titanic perfectly illustrates mankind’s tendency to arrogant overconfidence in our technology. Whenever we think we’re “so smart” that nothing can possibly go wrong, we’ve embraced a “Titanic Technology” that’s more akin to magic and superstition than science.
“Titanic Technology” embraces a mix of science and human arrogance. When the arrogance outweighs the science, unsinkable ships sink and thousands, maybe millions, die.
• Man has always had a “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” mentality. We believe that “what man can dream, man can do.” That attitude is in our nature; in our blood; in our testosterone.
So it’s no surprise that we tend to elect politicians and leaders who claim to have a dream, a vision, and the determination to make that vision happen.
Likewise, it’s no surprise that politicians who don’t have brains enough to imagine what they’ll have for breakfast tomorrow still claim to have a “vision” or “plan” for the future. They know the voters love voting for men with aggressive, innovative “plans”. Often, these “plans” (“Change you can believe in”?!) turn out be imaginary or even treasonous. But—no matter—we still vote for the “man with the plan”.
Looking back, it’s clear that man’s dreams, visions and plans have, on balance, been beneficial. Almost everything that passes for civilization today is based on some early innovator’s extraordinary “plan”. Time and again, we’ve elected, appointed or submitted to some “Rough Rider” who had a “plan” that he forced upon us and thereby drove mankind kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
However, as our technologies become increasingly powerful (and “magical”) and as the human population grows increasingly numerous, our visions and plans increasingly touch on devastating powers that are only barely understood. Our individual, corporate and national hubris convinces us that we can “boldly go where no man’s gone before”. But, increasingly, it becomes apparent that there may be some “destinations” that no man was meant to reach or even approach.
Or, if we are meant to approach such destinations, we must approach with pure science and humility–never with arrogance. When technologies are “made to happen” based more on the arrogance and personal forcefulness of a man or a corporation, trouble can follow.
• Two example of Titanic Tech come to mind: genetically modified foods and nuclear power plants.
Do any of our visionaries really know what the consequence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO food) will be? In the name of corporate profit, will GMO foods serve the people or poison them? Will the purported successes of GMO foods ultimately reduce the variety of food species to such a small number that a single new virus or parasite might suddenly destroy the global supply of something as fundamental as wheat or potatoes?
What about the laboratory geniuses who aren’t only creating GMO foods, but probing so deeply into genetics that they’re able to create new viruses that—if those viruses break free into the world environment—might destroy all of mankind? What about the reported creations of chimeras—creatures that are partially human and partially animals?
Not even the dreamers who support these technologies believe them to be risk-free. Still, they plunge ahead, certain that if our newfound knowledge causes a catastrophe, we will find even more knowledge to later overcome our most recent man-made catastrophe.
Over the past several thousand years, our confidence has served us well. Yes, mankind caused catastrophes, but mankind has always overcome those catastrophes. So far.
• But as man’s technology probes deeper into the building blocks of life and matter, we’re tinkering with forces so primal that if somebody screws up, the entire world might die. Our knowledge of genetics is one example of a “Titanic Technology”. Our knowledge of nuclear physics is another.
When most people think of nuclear physics, they think of nuclear bombs and the potential for a third world war that might “destroy civilization”. Lemme tell you something: Nuclear bombs are a blessing compared to nuclear power plants.
Yes—nuclear war could kill billions of men and women. There’d be some huge explosions, entire cities and even nations might cease to exist. But as we’ve seen in the examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite being “nuked” in WWII, those cities were rebuilt and once again became vibrant and prosperous. Even after nuclear war, life goes on—largely because there’s relatively little residual radiation after a nuclear explosion.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, there’s a flash of light and radiation, a big bang, and then it’s over. In an instant, millions might die. But after that instant, the survivors can rebuild.
Compare the fates of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the fates of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear weapons in A.D. 1945 but were quickly rebuilt and re-inhabited. Chernobyl and Fukushima were destroyed by nuclear power plants and may never be rebuilt or re-inhabited. Which is worse?
• According to Wikpedia,
“The Chernobyl disaster was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. It is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011). . . . The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy. . . . From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled . . . . The government coverup of the Chernobyl disaster was a “catalyst” for glastnost, which “paved the way for reforms leading to the Soviet collapse.”
Get that? Our government likes to claim that the Soviet Union was destroyed the sheer cost of by the Cold War’s arm’s race, but Chernobyl was at least the USSR’s coup de grace.
In A.D. 1986, a nuclear power plant exploded, and five years later the almighty Soviet Union cease to exist. The second most powerful nation in the world was destroyed—at least in part—by a single nuclear power plant’s catastrophic failure. I don’t know how many hydrogen bombs might’ve been required to destroy the former Soviet Union but, arguably, it took only one failed nuclear power plant to precipitate the same result.
“Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been burdened with the continuing and substantial decontamination and health care costs of the Chernobyl accident. . . . between 5% and 7% of government spending in Ukraine is still related to Chernobyl.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was commissioned in A.D. 1977. It exploded just nine years later. Today, twenty-six years after the meltdown, Ukraine is still paying to deal with the disaster. Ukraine reportedly has a “plan” to completely decommission the Chernobyl power plant by A.D. 2065—almost 80 years after the original explosion. Presumably, Ukraine will continue to be burdened with costs associated with Chernobyl for at least another half century.
“An area extending 19 miles (31 km) in all directions from the plant [about 1,100 square miles] is known as the “zone of alienation.” It is largely uninhabited, except for a few residents who have refused to leave. . . . Ukrainian officials estimate the area will not be safe for human life again for another 20,000 years.”
The design life for most nuclear power plants is just 30 to 40 years. The “dead zone” surrounding Chernobyl may last for 20,000 years.
Do you see why I say that nuclear bombs might be a blessing compared to nuclear power plants? A nuclear war is essentially over in an instant. Survivors can quickly reoccupy the land and rebuild. But if a nuclear power plant explodes, the resulting radioactive contamination might render an area uninhabitable for 20,000 years.
No one but God has the right to take risks that might destroy part of the earth for 20,000 years. Any man, nation or corporation that takes such risks is mad or satanic. Such risks implicate a “Titanic Technology”.
• Chernobyl was horrific. Fukushima is worse.
Radiation: Chernobyl’s radiation contaminated extended even to northern Europe. Fukushima’s radiation has reached North America.
Evacuation: Some predict that Fukushia may eventually cause Tokyo (population 13 million) to be evacuated. That’s 10% of Japan’s population. Imagine that America had to evacuate 10% (30 million) Americans from their homes. How could we manage? Where would we send those 30 million? Similarly, where could Japan send 13 million?
One difference between Chernobyl and Japan: The former USSR was a huge, largely vacant land mass. Therefore people near Chernobyl had somewhere to run to escape Chernobyl’s radiation. But Japan is so densely populated, that those living close to Fukushima may have nowhere to run. If so, they must stay in the “dead zone”.
Dead Zone: Chernobyl’s dead zone is about 1,100 square miles; Fukushima’s is “only” about 250 square miles. But—perhaps because they have no place to put all the refugees—the Japanese government is assuring people that it’s safe to remain in areas that are radioactively “hot”.
The Japanese government has declared everything within 12 miles of Fukushima is too “hot” to inhabit. Everything outside the 12 mile limit is supposedly safe enough for even children. However, Natural News reports, “soil samples taken from outside the 12-mile exclusion zone are higher than the 1.48 million becquerels per square meter limit that triggered evacuations outside Chernobyl in 1986. In other words, the radiation level of the soil 12 miles from Fukushima is now higher than the levels considered too dangerous to live in near Chernobyl.
Coverup: Just as the former Soviet Union tried to conceal the truth about Chernobyl, the Japanese government is trying to conceal the true extent of the disaster and consequences of Fukushima.
Political repercussions. Just as Chernobyl may have destroyed the Soviet Union, Fukushima may destroy Japan. Again, a single nuclear power plant explosion just might destroy a nation—or at least a national government.
Arrogance. Prior to Chernobyl, the Soviet Union was still bragging about its technological expertise and destiny to rule the world. Five years after Chernobyl, the USSR was gone. Similarly, up until A.D. 1990, the Japanese people regarded themselves and their technology as “perfect”. Since Fukushima, that conceit is gone. “Titanic Technology” is based at least as much on arrogance as science. When Titanic Technology fails, that failure typically has more to do with unwarranted arrogance than faulty science.
• And yet, The New York Times (“Japan’s Premier Seeks Support for Using Nuclear Power”) reports that, despite the similarities between Chernobyl and Fukushima:
“In a rare personal appeal on national television, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda asked for his nation’s support in restarting the first of Japan’s 50 idled nuclear plants, saying that keeping the plants offline could cause blackouts and economic chaos at a time when the country’s struggling economy can least afford it.
“That Mr. Noda took his case to the public on such an crucial issue, rather than setting policy behind closed doors, is a testament to the deep public distrust gripping the nation since last year’s nuclear disaster and the government’s playing down of the risks it posed. Despite increasingly dire warnings about the economic effects of a sudden turn from nuclear energy, a majority of Japanese remain unconvinced that it is safe to turn the plants back on.”
Well, gee . . . what could be possibly be unsafe (or even insanely stupid) about resuming a reliance on nuclear power plant technology in a nation prone to earthquakes? How effing stupid–or arrogant–do you have to be to build a nuclear power plant (Fukushima) on a known earthquake fault?
Well, who cares about earthquakes when we’re talking about money, right? After all, a nuclear power plant can provide comparatively cheap energy for 40 years (but in doing so, it will also generate a waste product that’s so lethal that it must be stored for several thousand years).
The nuclear power waste storage problem essentially means screw the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and thousands of years of offspring. We want cheap energy now (and the profits that can be generated from building nuclear power plants), and we don’t give a damn if the next thousand generations have to pay for it or die from the consequences. Our willingness to ignore the nuclear waste storage problem is a perfect example of the arrogance that’s crucial to Titanic Technology. “Damn the storage problems! Full profits ahead!”
“Mr. Noda spoke in stark terms, saying that Japan could not maintain its current living standards without nuclear power. . . . He also cited national security, saying Japan needed nuclear power to avoid relying too heavily on oil and natural gas from the politically volatile Middle East.
“The need to import more oil and gas to make up for the shortfall has been cited as a major factor behind Japan posting its first yearly trade deficit in more than three decades.
“Many Japanese share Mr. Noda’s worry that power shortages could cost jobs and accelerate the nation’s industrial decline, driving more businesses abroad.
I don’t doubt that Prime Minister Noda is right. Without nuclear power plants, businesses will flee, Japan’s economy will slide into depression, the standard of living will plummet. But with nuclear power technology, another “accident” is inevitable, more of Japan will be cordoned off into a “dead zone” and the Japanese will see more dead or deformed babies.
Japan’s energy problems aren’t subject to easy solutions. There’s no right answer. Much like meth addicts, Japan has become dependent upon a technology that could destroy them. They can’t quit and they can’t keep on. What shall they do?
I don’t care what “man can dream” about nuclear power—no one is sufficiently brilliant to justify getting cheap energy for 40 years in return for storing radioactive waste for several thousand years. No profit potential is sufficient to justify “selling” a technology that’ll work for 40 years and generate a waste product that must be stored for centuries.
Yes, we may soon cause cold fusion to work and replace nuclear power. We may succeed in harnessing solar energy or wind power. We may even find a way of using coal or petroleum based energy without pollution.
But, until we do, the world is hitting an energy “wall” that won’t be overcome by the Titanic Tech of nuclear power.
Of course, as Americans, we might scoff at the idiot Russians and the idiot Japanese who “couldn’t handle” their “nukes”. (Damn fools.) But, inevitably one of America’s 104 commercial reactors (which supply almost 20% of US electricity) will suffer a disaster, we’ll evacuate hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of Americans, and nuclear power will be as suddenly dead in the US as it is in Japan. We are also destined to “play the fool”.
In the meantime, the world’s third-largest economy (Japan) is headed into an economic depression and arguably dying. In the sense that the Fukushima nuclear power plant was built on Titanic Technology (science and arrogance), the coming depression will be man-made.
An economic depression in Japan will almost certainly precipitate an economic depression in the rest of the world—including the US.
Titanic Tech has gone too far. We’ve almost run out arrogance. We shall soon run out of unwarranted confidence and faith in our fiat currency (another “Titanic Tech”). Hard times are coming.