Today, Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoshio Hachiro was forced to resign just nine days into the job. According to Bloomberg, Hachiro came "under fire for using 'towns of death' to describe the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant and joking about radiation."
Hachiro was in charge of convincing the public that nuclear energy should continue to power a big chunk of Japan's grid. Talk about a tough job. But few alternatives exist for the country -- or any country, really -- that wants to quickly switch power sources. Plants take time to build, in some cases many years. And that's under the best of circumstances. Right now, Japan's economy is tanking, and that makes it even harder to get things done.
It's easy to blame individual officials or see the import of particular actions (e.g. a bad joke) in these kinds of problems. But I'd argue that they are less important than they appear. As with increasing climate risks, when you've got major energy problems, suddenly everyone starts to look bad. All your instincts -- honed over years and years of public service -- tell you that one set of behaviors should work, and then it doesn't. That's because the very bedrock (or baselines, if you will) of your society has changed and you're playing existential catchup.
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