Saving people from an urgent threat can cause their lives to be blighted in profound, yet hidden ways.
A monstrous wave and then a nuclear disaster forced Mikio and Hamako Watanabe from their home. But being saved from the potential dangers of a radiation leak destroyed their lives in a different way. Why do urgent dangers prompt us to take action, when far worse long-term ills are so often ignored?
WARNING: This episode discusses death by suicide. If you are suffering emotional distress or having suicidal thoughts, support is available – for example, from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US) or Samaritans (UK).
Written by Tim Harford with Andrew Wright. Producers: Ryan Dilley with Pete Naughton. Sound design/mix/musical composition: Pascal Wyse. Editor: Julia Barton. Publicity: Christine Ragasa.
Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, Heather Fain, Maya Koenig, Mia Lobel, Carly Migliori, Jacob Weisberg, and of course, the mighty Malcolm Gladwell.
Further reading and listening
I relied on long pieces by two brilliant journalists, Evan Osnos, “The Fallout” in The New Yorker, and my friend Robin Harding “Fukushima nuclear disaster: Did the evacuation raise the death toll?” in The Financial Times.
Additional sources include Mari Saito, Lisa Twaronite “Fukushima farmer takes on nuclear plant operator over wife’s suicide” Reuters
Kyung Lah “Husband of Fukushima suicide victim demands justice” CNN
Makoto Takahashi “Five Years after Fukushima, there are big lessons for nuclear disaster liability” University of Cambridge
Dean Karlan and Daniel Wood. “The Effect of Effectiveness: Donor Response to Aid Effectiveness in a Direct Mail Fundraising Experiment.” 2015. Economic Growth Center Discussion Paper No. 1038.
Karen E Jenni and George Loewenstein, “Explaining the “Identifiable Victim Effect”, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 14:235–257 (1997). Professor Loewenstein is quoted by Quentin Fottrell of Marketwatch.