By Robert F. Dodge, MD
On April 22, we marked the 49th anniversary of the first Earth Day. This comes 50 years after the Santa Barbara oil spills which were instrumental in the declaration of the first Earth Day. The fate of our planet remains threatened by two inextricably connected threats, that of climate change and nuclear war. We cannot pretend to be concerned about our environment if we are not simultaneously concerned about the destruction of the planet by nuclear war.
Fortunately, on this anniversary there are two bold initiatives attempting to deal with these simultaneous climate threats. These are the “Green New Deal” and “Back from the Brink” movements. Realizing the connection, what is necessary is the political will and courage to deal with these real and present dangers we face.
Two important scientific papers established these threats:
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) October 2018 climate report identifies a 12 year window until 2030 to contain global temperature rise to 1.5°C (2.7° F).
- The Physicians for Social Responsibility 2013 Nuclear Famine Report which identifies the catastrophic climate affects following a limited regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan using less than 1/2% of the global nuclear arsenals putting at risk of starvation >1/4 of the world’s population. (Forthcoming studies this year will demonstrate an even greater risk).
The connection between climate change and nuclear war is real and growing. With increasing competition for natural resources, global drought and lack of access to clean drinking water we see major conflict developing. This is exemplified in the first climate war occurring in Syria resulting in the largest mass migration in history. This has brought the United States and Russia, the world’s largest nuclear armed nations, into military opposition with many close calls.
Climate change and water scarcity also fuel the conflict between India and Pakistan and access to water is also a contributor to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
Much of the conflict we see in Honduras and Central America is fueled by drought and loss of farming, driving the northern migration from that country.
Perhaps no one understands the connection between climate change and war more than our military. Retired General Anthony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Central command stated, “We will pay for this [climate change] one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions today and we’ll have to take an enormous hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll. There is no way out of this that does not have real costs attached to it.”
These two threats are real and are man-made. Yet, these are threats that do not have to be. We know the risks they present but also how to eliminate them. What is required are bold actions now. These actions are delineated in the “Green New Deal” and “Back from the Brink” movements:
Green New Deal Resolution H Res 109, it is Resolved:
That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that—
It is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal—
(A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
(B) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;
(C) to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;
(D) to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—
(i) clean air and water;
(ii) climate and community resiliency;
(iii) healthy food;
(iv) access to nature; and
(v) a sustainable environment; and
(E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as “frontline and vulnerable communities”);
Back from the Brink calls on our federal officials to endorse:
1. Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first
2. Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. president to launch a nuclear attack
3. Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
4. Cancelling the plan to replace its entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons
5. Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, as we are obligated under Article VI of the NPT Treaty to do so.
The science is real and the people are making their voices heard and demanding action. There is no longer time to wish it were not so, alter the facts or to declare that it is too expensive to fix. Who among our elected representatives has the courage to step forth and lead the way to eliminate these non-partisan threats to our survival? How will our leaders respond to their children’s children when asked in the future, what did you do when our planet was threatened? What will you say?
Robert Dodge writes for PeaceVoice, is a family physician practicing in Ventura, California, is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and is the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.