For more than just a few high school seniors, the last semester of class can be a slog, as thoughts drift from the work at hand to a future in college, a career, or even just going out and having fun.
While there's little doubt Richard Zajac is doing that too, he's also got some weighty topics on his mind: , and figuring out which national television outlet will air a segment of it March 11, one year after a devastating earthquake rattled the country. He's hopeful that the anniversary will bring a new spotlight about the need for more accurate data about radiation levels in Japan and the stigma attached to people who live in the region near Fukushima.
Thursday night, Zajac, a , hosted a presentation on his work behind the documentary at Washington University. One of the film's interview subjects, Jean-Michel Cousteau, was also there. Cousteau, founder of the Santa Barbara, California-based Ocean Futures Society, has carried on his father Jacques' environmental legacy. He told the audience Zajac's passion recharged his own batteries.
"I was very intrigued because here's a young, 17 years old, what does her care about the environment. He's at the age where you're looking for girls, you're looking for fun, you're looking for computers, games and so on, and here's a young man who is concerned about an issue which is not even in his own country," Cousteau said.
The two met at an environmental conference last year. Cousteau told the audience of his new-found colleague, "We need thousands of people like you."
For his part, Zajac said he never saw any of this coming when he first watched news coverage of the disaster. He said he was initially intrigued about the possibility of producing low-cost geiger counters, which later turned into following the work of Safecast, an organization in Japan providing boots-on-the-ground data on radiation levels. In many cases, Zajac learned, those radiation levels are higher outside of the evacuation zone than inside, creating a whole host of socio-economic and political issues for the country, and the world.
Zajac sees the upcoming March 11 anniversary of the quake as an opportunity to refocus international awareness on those areas. It will likely also include the airing of a portion of his documentary on a national television outlet and mark the final stretch toward completing the two hour film.
"The lesson is less about anything that happened with the one in a million tsunami or anything like that."
"It's all about people coming together to solve the most monumental challenges," he said. "Even in the face of adversity, whether in Japan or the United States, we can work together to solve these challenges."