Lessons from Japan, while in Japan
En route to the recent UNFCCC negotiations in Bangkok last month, I had the opportunity to fly over Japan for a brief layover in Tokyo. It was a somber experience, as I was flying on ANA (a Japanese airline), and I was one of the only non-Japanese passengers. The group seemed (understandably and appropriately) shaken. I saw plenty of devastation below from my small window, and it was humbling and very sad to fly over the powerful Pacific and the Japanese shores on the heels of their devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
This fragile and sensitive moment in the air with my fellow passengers made me think about the small island nations that face imminent sea level rise, and what it’s like, as a people group, to live with a heightened sense of fear, anxiety, or mourning- particularly when facing the ominous rising ocean.
Minutes later I was in the Tokyo airport, still musing and pondering the power of the tsunami and the impact it will continue to have on these people. I was just powering my cell phone on to make a quick call to my husband, looking around in a crowded airport gift-shop. Suddenly the ground started shaking, and people started running and screaming. We were experiencing an earthquake. Closely followed by a second. As it turned out, it was just a minor rumbling – I risk seeming melodramatic in this post, because the televisions promptly reported that it was only a 5.0 and there were no tsunami warnings.
However, it was raw and touching to share the experience with those in the airport who carry the recent events with them in a visceral, painful way. The shop workers didn’t return to their shops for quite some time, and some of them cried. Each quake they experience must seem like a terrible reminder of the power of the earth and its unpredictability. Each rumbling serves as both a reminder and an opportunity for panic when the images of the mighty black wave are still so fresh.
The recent events in Japan are unique, but there are lessons to be learned that apply far beyond Japan’s borders. The so-called “drowning islands” of the world- those shrinking, fragile pillows of sand that peek above the water level- share something in common with those I encountered during my brief stay in Japan. A rising tide is a rising tide, and facing the possibility of water-inundation is a terrifying experience, whether the warning comes because of a possible tsunami or heightened sea-levels and climate change.