The cool thing about science is that it’s tentative and as scientific research goes on and conclusions are drawn, we get more nuanced data and information about the world around us. I remember when I first learned about the greenhouse effect and saw the accompanying figure in my science textbook. (Just search "greenhouse effect" on Google Images and you’ll see you’ve seen the figure with the sun’s rays bouncing off the earth and being trapped in the atmosphere at some point in your life.) I thought, "Thank goodness for the greenhouse effect, allowing the earth to be at the proper temperature for humanity to exist. Then I remember the new version of the figure which added automobiles and power plants to the earth’s surface and the term "global warming." And I thought, "This can’t be good. Too many greenhouse gases will make it too hot." Then I remember the change from the term "global warming" to "global climate change" as a way to acknowledge the change in climate and weather patters due to global average temperatures increasing. The movie "An Inconvenient Truth" was released in 2006, and, in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote, “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.” Now a new report by the IPCC, states that the authors are now 95 percent to 100 percent confident that human activity is the primary influence on planetary warming. OK, so I, like Al Gore, hope we’re all wrong about climate change, but given the best available scientific data, it’s well past time to act. (Hello, U.S. and China!?!?)

This all brings me to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. A steadily increasing number of news sources are raising concerns about the continuing public health and environmental concerns as a result of the disaster, including pollution in the Pacific Ocean, children being born with thyroid problems and contamination of the food system (including the U.S. West Coast). See here, here and here. At the same time, an increasing number of news sources are saying the public health impacts are not as severe as these competing news reports or as initially anticipated. See here and here and here. I am convinced there are certainly some negative environmental and health effects associated with such a nuclear disaster, though I am far less certain and have far less knowledge about the scope and severity of these effects. I am looking to science as a guide. It seems we should be concerned, perhaps even seriously concerned. How can science inform us about the appropriate response? And once science does, will we even pay attention or care? If past is prologue, we have little reason to be optimistic.

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