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Archive for August, 2011

When Talk about “the Elephant in the Room” Obstructs Japan’s Recovery

When Talk about “the Elephant in the Room” Obstructs Japan’s Recovery

Counteracting sensational reporting to construct a sustainable opportunity.

By Lavinia Weissman

The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan has surfaced conversations people often describe as “the elephant in the room” – the toxic facts no one wants to talk about, even when there is not a crisis to pause the denial. In the press, each day, as we watch the rising death toll, other messages help to weave the fabric of distress, i.e. food security, radiation or the unattended elderly left to die.

It’s a challenge for people locally and globally to find a way to have conversations about these topics without getting lost in the doom and gloom. Most people do not have the background to investigate by obtaining the scientific education critical to conducting these discussions. When they try, often the sensationalism of the mainstream media confuses them.

Since the earthquake in Japan and the aggressive way the Japanese have been seeking to bind the impact of the radiation leak from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, I have observed a difference in the way Japanese are responding to their trauma that is different than how the US has responded to Katrina, Haiti and the BP oil spill. The value that the Japanese hold for civility, dignity and respect for human life has made its appearance in the press.

While the global press still carries headlines of survival and threat of doom, I have found a few stories hidden in the massive flow of articles streaming everywhere that provide a hidden story of the presence of the exemplary way the Japanese hold their dignity and compassion at this time.

Stories of Dignity and Compassion

A story in this context was reported in the UK Daily Mail, “Elderly Patients Left to Die,” mixed in with numerous other traumatic headlines.

While reading the story, I discovered something unexpected. True to the Japanese culture of dignity and care, these elders were arranged in a community space and left to rest in their comatose state on bed cushions with bedding and blankets while others cared for them. This arrangement conveyed a picture of compassion and peace in a location that appeared clean and orderly, considering how much rubble there was everywhere else.

I don’t recall seeing images like these after the earthquake in poverty stricken Haiti or Houston Astrodome where Katrina victims were held.

Radiation Exposure: The Big Elephant

By March 19, the UK Daily Mail headline reported on the one elephant that stomps out constructive conversation anywhere: “The moment nuclear plant chief WEPT as Japanese finally admit that radiation leak is serious enough to kill people.” This admission was made days after the first radiation leak and the massive effort to contain it.

This kind of media does not inspire the organization of a research agenda followed by fundraising to build upon a base of science from which people can respond to by developing approaches to radiation that exercise precaution and organize a level of research funding that is sufficient to fund a cooperative agenda that can impact the prevention of exposure or treatment of people who develop health issues as a result of exposure.

By Saturday morning I found this story on my Facebook news feed, via my colleague and friend @doncarli585555:

Ann Coulter made an appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show reporting that, “Radiation is good for you.”

This report was sourced by the Huffington Post. It contained a link to the actual broadcast by Coulter, who was interviewed by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

Reporting like this perpetuates the debate that exacerbates public confusion on environmental and chemical toxins. This reflects an investment in media campaigns leveraged by public interest groups and corporate lobbyists that confuse the public rather than educate them on actual risks and how to exercise precaution.

A Call for Exercising Precaution

There’s always an opportunity in every situation. The Japan earthquake presents an opportunity to learn how to exercise precaution by integrating the application of science and technology into discussions that shape a research agenda that can accelerate the development of innovation in response to a trauma or catastrophe.

General Electric, a global corporate citizen and UN Global Compact Leader, is the manufacturers of the nuclear reactor installed in Fukushima. A fundraising campaign led by CEO Jeffrey Immelt began with a $5M donation and has accelerated into pledges of over $100M. Recipients of this web of donations include the Japanese Red Cross and Miyagi Prefecture Disaster Relief Fund.

GE has also taken a lead to invest in sustainable innovation through venture programs, like Ecomagination and Healthymagination, which were shaped to accelerate a response to the harm that has been caused to our environment, people and economy.

Will telecommunication companies such as Nokia, Motorola and Sprint follow and help lead more sustainable innovation?

About Lavinia Weissman

Lavinia Weissman is a sustainable market leadership capacity builder, journalist and publisher of She is passionate about working with people from any industry or sector to help impact the health of people, environment, earth and economy to protect the well-being our global ecosystem.