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The climate-nuclear nexus and our response

What do we do when storm clouds well up and are about to wreak havoc on our lives? The ultimate storm clouds are welling up for not only human lives, but all life on this planet as we spew carbon dioxide, methane, and countless other man-created chemicals into the atmosphere that accumulate in the oceans and onto the continents  heating  the planet eventually beyond our tolerance. For my part I am now confronting the powers-that-be by taking a stand and being arrested, to say we must change our ways.

On May 7, I was arrested at Sub Base Bangor on the Hood Canal, home of the Trident nuclear submarine. Unfortunately, during the weekend of May 13-15, my health prevented my participation in the Break Free in Anacortes. Both nuclear weapons and fossil fuels are murderous and suicidal. Unless we confront them and control them, they will end us as murderous effects are now being experienced.

Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” In addition he said, “the unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our way of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.” Gandhi said, “Unless humanity adopts nonviolence, it will be suicidal for mankind.”

Climate-Nuclear Nexus

Anthropocentric Climate Destruction (ACD)

Anthropocene means the human-centered age. With the initiation of the industrial age based on fossil fuels, humanity invented a way of life dependent upon fossil fuels, which had developed over millions of years and are being consumed in only a few hundred years. Much of the life on this planet will not be able to tolerate the increasing temperatures. Humanity has never experienced the likes of this. Can the resilience of humans to problem solve, reverse course to limit the effects? The time remaining is short and getting shorter.

April 2016 was the seventh successive month of record global climate temperature increases and it is being predicted that the Arctic will turn from ice to heat-absorbing water this summer—84 years ahead of conventional model projections.

There are many connections between nuclear weapons/power and the climate crisis

Under Obama, the United States has committed to the next generation of nuclear weapons allocating one trillion dollars over the next ten years, which includes new facilities. The planned development of “small nuclear weapons” causes an appeal to usability and raises concern. Other nations are following suit, including India and Pakistan. The nuclear club is growing.

A nuclear war could cause drastic changes in climate. Scientists have determined that the effects of a nuclear exchange—whether between the US and Russia or between Pakistan and India (both possess 100+ nuclear weapons) would cause freezing of the earth, signaling the end of farming and result in at least two billion deaths.

Both nuclear war and climate change would cause three intergenerational effects. Nuclear testing has already caused birth defects and early deaths into the third and fourth generations. To date, there is no way to safely dispose of nuclear waste.

Following the European Commission in 2008, the US Department of Defense in 2015 stated that “global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions—that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.”

Non-nation actors are a major concern for nuclear terror.

Is nuclear power an answer to abandoning fossil fuels? No

The costs of nuclear power and the time needed to construct new plants, not to mention the environmental damage caused by uranium extraction and the dilemma spent fuel rod storage, prevent it from being a reasonable replacement of fossil fuels. While the use of nuclear power to produce energy has been decreasing, the growth of the renewable energy industry has been growing significantly.

The necessity of resolving both the climate crisis and the threat from nuclear weapons and nuclear power demands international cooperation. One cannot be mitigated without the other.

For humanity to overcome its mistake of developing an unsustainable and suicidal way of life, we must create a sustainable peace by way of cooperation. This requires the trust and open communication among nations. How can the US work towards nuclear abolition or work on the climate crisis while participating in NATO and surrounding Russia and China with military bases? International Law is the most obvious tool needed for mitigation (e.g., Litigation led by the Marshall Islands is being attempted to move beyond the lethargy preventing nuclear abolition).

(Analysis about the nexus between nuclear weapons and the climate crisis was generated by the World Future Council and can be accessed at its website.)

Signs of destruction

Most people in the US are unaware of the nuclear threat that still exists—whether from accidents or perhaps, more importantly, the growing animosity between the United States and Russia. Ignorance abounds. Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US adopted the Wolfowitz Doctrine: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.” (Paul Wolfowitz, 1992, according to Paul Craig Roberts, 11 May 2015)

Since then, the US has fomented a coup in the Ukraine, converted NATO into a political and military force, and armed the nations surrounding Russia. Several people of note have warned about the slide that could result in a nuclear war. The situation is so deep most cannot face it and ignore or deny it. What does it mean that humanity is in this situation where all life on Earth is threatened?

Not many of the storm clouds can be seen. The signs of destruction seem hidden. Maybe it is better to ignore and hope the threat will go away! But…we have children. There are generations to come after us. What about them? The droughts, the fires, the pollution, the melting Arctic, and the changing weather lead to the questions, “What about us? How vulnerable are we?

The genesis of our situation is revealed in the history of human endeavors to find meaning in seeking survival. We seek the meaning of life because we have a brain capable of reflection on the past and the future. The frontal cortex evolved beyond the primitive amygdala’s fight-or-flight response. Now we can reflect on our bodies and see that they live and they die. What is this all about? Can and does life go on after death? Immortality? Of course, most average people circumscribe their thinking to their own self-interests and world-views, attempting to live a secure and ordinary life.

Years of study and reflection lead me to conclude with the words of Earnest Becker. Becker focuses on immortality as the prime human motivation. “We can see that the self-perpetuation of organisms is the basic motive for what is most distinctive about man—namely, religion. As Otto Rank put it, all religion springs, in the last analysis, ‘not so much from … fear of natural death as of final destruction.’ But it is culture itself that embodies the transcendence of death in some form or other, whether it appears purely religious or not. It is very important for students of man to be clear about this: culture itself is sacred, since it is the ‘religion’ that assures in some way the perpetuation of its members.” (Escape from Evil)

The definition of religion currently is in dispute. I choose to bypass the dispute by saying world-views that regarded as absolute can be regarded as a “religion” for those who hold absolute views of the life-symbolizing meanings. At risk of inadequately addressing this point of view, I move to an observation about its implications.

Robert Jay Lifton describes it in these terms: “Religious wars and persecutions are, at bottom, expressions of rivalry between contending claims to immortality and ultimate spiritual power. Religious victimization is a one-sided version of that process with the specific psychological functions of finding a target for death anxiety, sweeping away cosmological doubt, and achieving (or maintaining) revitalization.” The Broken Connection, p. 315.

In other words, nuclear weapons and our fossil fuel generated life style, and maintained by the almighty dollar, serve us like God. In fact, those in power and those caught up in the power of power assume the power of God. When we choose the weapons or choose to attempt control of the environment, we act like god. Lifton uses the word “nuclearism” for the nuclear weapon mindset.

Quoted by Terrence J. Rynne in Gandhi and Jesus, The Saving Power of Nonviolence, Rene Girard states, “[T]he Bomb does indeed seem like a prince of this world, enthroned above a host of priests and worshipers, who exist, it would seem, only to do it service… Humans have always found peace in the shadow of their idols…truly wonderful sense of the appropriate has guided the inventors of the most terrifying weapons to choose names that evoke ultimate violence in the most effective ways: names taken from the direst divinities in Greek mythology, like Titan, Poseidon and Saturn, the god who devoured his own children.  We who sacrifice fabulous resources to fatten the most inhuman form of violence so that it will continue to protect us…”

Which road?

Humanity is not only at a survival juncture of existence, humanity is at a moral juncture. Even now, we are tolerating the murderous effects of the nuclear experiment. We may also be tolerating the suicidal possibility.

Which road do we choose now? We created the bomb; we initiated the fossil-fuel-based way of life. Intended or not, we facilitated the Anthropocene age. Will those of us who see a new way be able to take on those of us who like being gods for whatever reasons? We can choose one of three ways: bury ourselves in passivism, join the gods, or with courageous nonviolence and creativity take a stand.

I chose the third way long ago. May 7, I joined with Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action—along with Larry Kerschner, a Vietnam Veteran for Peace, and Gilberto Perez, a member of Nipponzan Myohoji  Buddhist community—risking arrest by blocking the federal entrance to Sub Base Bangor.

Bangor houses eight Trident nuclear submarines, each with the capacity of twenty-four D-5 missiles. These missiles are capable of carrying six to eight independently-targeted nuclear warheads with a destructive power many times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Ground Zero has been resisting the Trident nuclear weapons for 38 years.

Unless we can wean ourselves from fossil fuels we will send the climate over the tipping point. Many think we may already have passed the point of no return, but I believe it could get much worse. By participating in these two actions within a week, I had intended to demonstrate my belief that nukes and fossil fuel use are mutually reinforcing.

We need to change our way of thinking. We need to be responsible. We need more than just inventiveness. We need a sense of ethics and humility. We are not gods. We are human beings who have evolved from an animal nature. We are still part of nature. Nature will have the last word.

As I was writing this essay, Amy Goodman interviewed Noam Chomsky about this very subject. Chomsky paraphrases Trump as saying: “Let’s race to the precipice as quickly as we can.”  But Trump is not the only threat. The next day, Chomsky stated that “today’s Republican Party is a candidate for most dangerous organization in human history.”

Humanity faces a situation incomparable to anything in its existence. Our actions must speak louder than our words.

Bernie Meyer, a resident of Olympia, is a long-time peace/anti-nuke/social justice activist and the author of The American Gandhi.

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