Nuclear famine: the future that must never happen

“I am convinced that nuclear weapons must be abolished. Their use in a military conflict is unthinkable; using them to achieve political objectives is immoral.”

Who said this?  Not your average peacenik hippie.  Not even a pie-in-the-sky anti-war activist.

No, it was Mikhail Gorbachev who called for the total abolishment of nuclear weapons, in a recently released report by the renowned International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and its US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

A-bomb on Nagasaki

The report is grimly entitled “Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk—Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition.” Its lead author, Dr. Ira Helfand, draws upon new modeling evidence showing that  “even the relatively small nuclear arsenals of countries such as India and Pakistan could cause long lasting, global damage to the Earth’s ecosystems andthreaten hundreds of millions of people….It would not cause the extinction of the human race, but it would bring an end to modern civilization as we know it.”

Even a limited nuclear exchange would affect the production of staple foods like corn and rice worldwide. “Significant agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale, further reducing accessible food,” the report says.

It is hard to get a handle on how to stop the steam roller of global carbon consumption, which in itself is a recipe for disaster.

Nuclear weapons, by contrast, are controlled by nation states, and can be precisely counted.

Nuclear weapons can be disabled and destroyed.

There is no sane reason for the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to maintain hundreds of nuclear warheads ready to go at a moment’s notice.

That 20th century Cold War mentality has to be consigned to the dustbin of a very dangerous, outmoded and counterproductive history.

Imagine what would be possible if instead of investing billions of dollars in nuclear weapons each year, those funds were invested in renewable energy sources, sustainable agriculture, and devising methods of increasing human health and welfare while also creating a sustainable human footprint on the planet.

There is so much to protest these days, and nuclear weapons seem beyond the ken of most ordinary citizens.

But these are our lives the generals are gambling with.

We need a concerted people’s movement to insist that the time of nuclear weaponry has come and gone.

We vote for peace and life. Tell me, Mr. Politician, are you going to vote against us?

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1 Comment

  1. Martin Lack

     /  April 29, 2012

    I agree with Gorbachov (I think just about anybody would agree) that we would be better off without nuclear weapons; and using them would be immoral. I also believe we should work very hard to avoid nuclear proliferation (we do not need any more North Koreas). However, we cannot uninvent the technology that may yet prove to be our salvation.

    One of the reasons cosmologists posit for the fact that we have not yet been visited by aliens (that will probably not be friendly if they are looking for an alternative home) is that sophisticated civilisations destroy themselves (we can see evidence of this in human history). However, I believe a truly sophisticated civilisation would be one the learns to exercise the responsibility to harness such potentially awesome destructive power for beneficial purposes.

    If humanity somehow manages to avoid significant reduction of global population as a result of environmental collapse, we will have significant problems powering modern civilisation for billions of people. Even if we are successful in encouraging millions to generate their own power (for air conditioning that will almost certainly become more and more essential), we will sooner or later run out of resources – unless we build fast breeder reactors that can use uranium extracted from seawater (as well as process all existing nuclear ore, bombs, and waste). This should buy us enough time (several hundred years) to harness nuclear fusion…

    The only sustainable alternative to this nuclear future – apart from far less humans – will be one in which the superconductive electricity transmission systems are used to transfer electricity from huge solar farms in deserts (where land can be put to no other use) to where people live. However, this will require fossil fuel companies to embrace sustainability and become renewable energy companies instead (something they have failed to do for 30 years already).

    I suspect that, since life is never as simple as we might like it to be, the future will be more complex – it will involve both nuclear and renewable energy – and I therefore hope humanity can handle the responsibility of having the means to destroy itself; and yet avoid doing so. However, one thing is for sure, short of giving large numbers of scientists frontal lobotomies, we cannot uninvent the technology that we now have.


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