Fear factor.

One odd trait that I will never understand is humanity’s enjoyment and pursuit of being frightened. The reason for fear in itself is pretty self-evident in evolutionary rationale. We have (or should have) a natural inclination to avoid things that may harm us. Despite this worthy instinct, we go out of our way to put ourselves into fearful situations. We participate in extreme sports and we put ourselves on midway rides that have been assembled by carnies of the most questionable mechanical merit in our pursuit of the thrill that fear gives us. An entire genre of fearful storytelling has evolved from Dante’s Inferno to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street.

Writers who want to thrill their readers with fearful creations have realized that one of the most fearful realms for that of humanity is the fear of the unknown. Dante Alighieri crafted an epic trilogy dealing with the afterlife. Mary Shelley wrote on the possible outcomes of work with electricity which was poorly understood at the time and the creators of a Nightmare on Elm Street made a frightening movie based on what happens while we dream.

The aforementioned stories (and many others) were quite successful in playing on the fear of readers as they took an area where people generally have a lack of understanding and they filled that void with a terrifying explanation.

Unfortunately, it is not simply novelists and movie creators who take advantage of societies fear of the unknown. The media and special interest groups take advantage of this human tendency all the time and often to our detriment as a whole.

Take heavy metals for an example. It has been long known that ingesting quantities of many of these elements can harm or even kill people. There seems to be quite an ignorance displayed by some on how one does ingest these metals and how much is dangerous.

I will always remember a news story on TV that I saw a couple of years ago leading up to Halloween. A woman had purchased some mechanical porch decorations and put them outside in preparation for the evening of little ghouls and goblins. These decorations were robotic sort of witches and such that moved and made sounds. In a moment of revelation this gal decided to fully read the packaging on her purchase and much to her horror she discovered that THE PRODUCT CONTAINS LEAD!!!!

Oh dear oh dear. What to do? Return the item? Call a hazmat crew for removal? Call the Prime Minister? Call Ghostbusters? Nah, this lady called the media. A crew rushed down and filmed this woman fearfully and indignantly ranting on how her entire block has been put at risk by this toxic product. Children could very well have dropped dead walking up her steps and birds could have fallen from the sky.

Now lets inject a touch of reality here. The lead contained in the products was in a solder within the circuitry of the units. A person would literally have to take the things apart, extract the lead and eat it from multiple units in order to be harmed. These were not baby toys in the crib, they are porch decorations. Has a person ever noticed that most fishing tackle boxes will include some lead weights? Has anybody ever wondered what that fast oxidizing grey metal is on their car battery posts? We are surrounded by lead people and we always have been. It is an essential metal to us in many ways and is pretty much harmless when we utilize it properly.

Now back to the main issue; did the reporter do the simple research to dismiss and move beyond this hysteric claim of mass poisoning? Of course not. She needed a story that would scare people and facts would certainly ruin that. An expert was quoted on what the harmful effects are due to mass consumption of lead (but he never explained how one ends up consuming so much) and a protectionist labor leader was interviewed to explain the evils of importing products from other nations. The story actually ran over multiple days so I guess viewer reviews were positive. Sad.

Now on to a bigger scale we are seeing a renewed hysteria about nuclear energy due to the tragic events in Japan. Aging hippies are gleefully feeling justified in their attempts to liken nuclear power generation to nuclear bombing as they have done so for decades. Again facts are being completely left aside as media and special interests swarm over this story and try to instill a fear of Armageddon in society at large. Iodine is selling out in Calgary despite their being utterly no risk of radiation exposure in Alberta and “health” stores are eager to fill this irrational demand as they prey on unfounded fears.

Now lets get back to reality. Currently there are 442 nuclear power plants in operation in over 30 countries. Nuclear power has been used for over 50 years. There have now been 3 incidents. Three Mile Island is often cited. People need to remember that the death toll of the Three Mile Island is ZERO. Chernobyl was certainly a disaster. Due to the communist tendencies of hiding facts, we never will know the true human cost of that tragedy. People have to keep in mind though that the Chernobyl reactor was created and run by a communist regime that was completely dysfunctional to the point of being incapable of manufacturing a good clock radio.

The contributing factors in the TWO nuclear generation incidents must be kept in mind and it is foolish to try and blanket what is statistically a very clean and safe industry. The earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan were exceptional and rare occurrences. Despite this, I see Alberta activists trying to use that example to fight potential nuclear power generation in Alberta. How about this folks, I am offering $10 million insurance coverage for tsunami damage within Alberta for the paltry premium of $100 per month. Contact me for details.

Interest groups are comparing apples and oranges and leaving aside facts as they take advantage of public fear in their opposition to pretty much every form of power generation known to man. Wind farms kill birds and whales, dammed rivers flood habitats, coal is evil, natural gas is evil, solar requires masses of mined heavy metals from third-world countries and of course nuclear energy is created by Satan Himself.

These groups preying on public fear never offer alternatives to things. They simply create hysteric theoretical outcomes. Keep in mind, if you are fundraising for an environmental group your efforts will be far more successful if you portray a mushroom cloud frying millions of people as opposed to the kinda sorta possibility that a few people may get hurt reality involved in power generation. Many people have died building dams, in oil/gas exploration and in coal mining. No form of energy comes with no cost.

The best case that I have seen against nuclear power generation in Alberta has been the economic one. If nuclear generation is unviable without government grants, then it is not a feasible form of generation. When the element of fear is set aside and a person thinks rationally on the issue, that is the simple and correct outcome.

Fear sells but I hope we can try better to move away from letting it impact our choices on important issues. We need to do our own research on issues. Whether it is an irrational fear of vaccinations or of types of power generation, if we make any decisions based on fear rather than fact we will almost invariably make the wrong choice. Remember, most fear is based on the unknown. We can make many of our fears go away simply by educating ourselves.

1 thought on “Fear factor.

  1. The Japanese experience proves the safety of nuclear power plants. To be hit with a 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami yet leak only mild amounts of radiation shows that the plants can withstand huge events. It’s safer to live by a nuclear plant than be a coal miner, who of course are necessary to provide fuel for coal-fired power generation.

    But you’re right about their cost. Even if the taxpayer isn’t stiffed with part of their expense for construction, it seems inevitable that tax money is needed to decommision the plants.

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