Humanity is at a crossroads, faced with dual threats. One is the growing climate crisis and the other is the ever-present, albeit submerged threat of nuclear annihilation that has been part of daily reality since 1945. Each threatens all life on Planet Earth.
From melting ice, rising and acidifying oceans, permafrost thawing, increasingly severe weather (floods, heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires), signs of anthropocentric climate change are unmistakable and will cause dire problems of famine and dislocation in coming years.
However, the climate emergency does not exist in isolation and it will not be successfully addressed without also addressing and ending current wars, any of which could spiral out of control with use of nuclear weapons.
Recent scandals involving nuclear weapons show how careless the system itself is with regard to these weapons, which increases the danger of their use, as do drone attacks that are lowering the psychological threshold for bombing.
An articulation of humanity's predicament from the threat of climate change needs to include comprehension that:
- International agreements and cooperation on a scale never seen in human history will be needed to address climate change
- A good first step toward this is ending the wars that rage and expand daily, and the global arms trade that fuel these conflicts
- A good second step is the nuclear nations fulfilling their treaty obligations under the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons)
Citizens of the United States have a particular responsibility to understand our unique role with regard to these dual threats because:
- The U.S. developed and to date is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons on a civilian population
- Until recently the U.S. produced more greenhouse gases than any other nation, and we still produce more per capita than any other nation (17.6 tons per capita)
- The U.S. military is the single greatest institutional producer of greenhouse gases and is one of the largest consumers of oil resources in the world
- The U.S. has the widest global reach and bears the greatest responsibility for most current wars
- The U.S. spends more on the military than any other nation, this money is urgently needed for constructive, not destructive, purpose
In his recent call for action on climate change, Bill McKibben cited, by way of encouragement, the June 12, 1982 march for peace.
To recap briefly, the peace march he referenced was held at the time of the U.N. Second Special Session on Disarmament. More than a million people filled the streets calling for nuclear disarmament in New York, with companion protests in California, the UK and elsewhere.
In addition to the large march on June 12, on June 14, more than one thousand people were arrested in civil disobedience protests at the nuclear nations' missions to the United Nations.
Here in the U.S., the protest turned out to be more a culmination of a great deal of effort, rather than a groundswell for nuclear abolition.
There are reasons for this, not the least being that attention had to be diverted from the nuclear issues in the mid eighties to working to end the U.S.-fueled bloodbath taking place in Central America during which hundreds of thousands of people were murdered.
It is ironic to think that the protests of the 1980's helped bring about an end to the Cold War and reduced nuclear stockpiles, yet left the United States as the sole global superpower free to pursue calamitous and insane policies without restraint.
McKibben might have taken the broad and long view by uniting the dual threats of climate change and nuclear annihilation by calling for action on both at the United Nations this September.
As he did not, it is up to "we the people" to redress the oversight and make sure that both threats are brought to the forefront of public debate and protest this fall.