While we were planning this article, a cascade of crises shattered climate records. July 3-6 set a record for the hottest world average temperatures yet measured. In our state, western Massachusetts was saturated almost daily with heavy humidity and record-setting rain, whose floods devastated $10 million worth of farm crops. Record-breaking fires burning across half of Canada blanketed some US cities with the worst air quality on Earth. Always urban environmental justice communities of color suffered most from unbearable heat and asthma-related emergency room visits.
The first full update of the UN climate report since 2014 (the year that 196 countries agreed to cut emissions in an effort to avert global climate breakdown) was recently released. In response to the report’s findings, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said despondently that the world is running out of options to defuse the “ticking climate time bomb…In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts—everything, everywhere, all at once… Conditions not expected until 2040 are here.”
Ninety-nine percent of the world knows that severing our reliance on fossil fuels is the emergency remedy for an overheating world. But if governments fail to cut their Gordian knot with fossil fuels, we are on track for almost 5 degrees Fahrenheit warming over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century – unlivable heat. What stands in the way? Not science, but the lack of political will, economic courage, and some would add love. The Biden administration has launched admirable green energy programs, yet, it also permits leasing on public lands for oil and gas extraction and sustains the war in Ukraine with fuel guzzling weapons, while avaricious US fossil fuel corporations are pocketing billions of dollars exporting energy to Europe.
The climate emergency crisis is one of two equally dire, imminent threats to human existence and the natural world.
Imagine your neighbor stockpiling assault rifles positioned toward your home, ready to use if feeling threatened by you. And you do likewise. Your words escalate, you cock your weapons, you are each aggressive and short-fused. Somebody throws a stone through your window. How likely is it a bloody massacre will happen? That’s where we are with nuclear weapons in nine countries and US nuclear weapons strategically placed in 5 NATO countries (Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands). Likewise, Russia has recently placed nuclear weapons in Belarus. All nine nuclear countries are currently engaged in upgrading their nuclear arsenal, collectively spending $100 billion per year on these bedeviling weapons. And a war is going on in Ukraine in which most countries involved have nuclear weapons. One nuclear weapon used will spark an unstoppable response.
Nuclear weapons’ governments and their bomb-making industries are criminally sleepwalking into what could mean the end of our planet’s life, with the ever-present specter of their use, an accident, or their theft by terrorists.
On Feb. 2, 1998 General George Butler, former Commander of U.S. Strategic Air Command, addressed the National Press Club: “The likely consequences of nuclear weapons have no politically, militarily, or morally acceptable justification…They expunge all hope for meaningful survival. They hold in their sway not just the fate of nations but the very meaning of civilization.” He joined 60 other retired generals and admirals calling for nuclear weapons abolition. (But, why did these men wait until retirement to speak truth to power?)
The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used is to eliminate them; and, likewise, the only way to avert climate catastrophe is to phase out and replace fossil fuels. Both are incompatible with human survival. A recent project, Warheads to Windmills, begun in Northampton, Massachusetts by NuclearBan.us and now state- and country-wide, brings these two life and death issues together in a grounded, pragmatic proposal.
Warheads to Windmills: Preventing Climate Catastrophe and Nuclear War proposes that all the money, brainpower and international goodwill currently being squandered by nine countries pointing nuclear weapons at each other be devoted instead to a concerted global effort to speed up the transition to a fossil-free economy. Significantly, as the report documents, the very same science and engineering training and skills being used to manufacture these weapons could easily be transferred to renewable technologies, given political will and economic investment at the state and federal level.
The campaign to kickstart this essential transition involves promoting H.R.2775, a federal bill calling for the U.S. to sign the UN nuclear weapons ban treaty, to work with the other nuclear-armed nations to eliminate all nuclear weapons and to put those resources into a global effort to address the climate crisis.
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