SUMMARY: Famous anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott warns nuclear extinction still looms – a threat as great as climate change. Then author David Bollier explains the new Commons on the ground and in cyber-space. Radio Ecoshock 150211
Welcome. I’m Alex Smith.
You know, beyond abrupt climate change, there’s another way humans can wipe themselves out with technology. A thermo-nuclear war can do it, and those 16,000 nuclear warheads are still on alert – even more after the revival of the cold war and the civil war in the Ukraine. You may not want to hear about it, but this threat is ugly and real. Helen Caldicott, the world’s greatest anti-nuclear activist joins us.
Later in the show, we’ll hear from an expert in the commons – the wealth we all share, outside the grip of capitalism, the markets, and almighty money. Author David Bollier explains.
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HELEN CALDICOTT – NUCLEAR EXTINCTION IS POSSIBLE
Helen Caldicott is an Australian medical doctor. In fact, she is a pediatrician – a children’s doctor. Perhaps that is why she is so concerned about the impact of all things nuclear on children – and on their future. Most than 40 years ago, in 1971, this young doctor spoke out against nuclear weapons testing by France in the Pacific islands.
Here is just one paragraph from the bio on her web site
“While living in the United States from 1977 to 1986, she played a major role in re-invigorating as President, Physicians for Social Responsibility, an organization of 23,000 doctors committed to educating their colleagues about the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and nuclear war. On trips abroad she helped start similar medical organizations in many other countries. The international umbrella group (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. She also founded the Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND) in the US in 1980.”
Caldicott’s work on warning the world about the dangers of the triple melt-down at Fukushima Japan culminated last year in a Symposium in New York City “The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident l March 11-12, 2013“. The online archive of those speakers (free video) continues to be an important resource. Find those here.
Helen and I could talk for hours about unsafe nuclear reactors, and the plot to sell more of them to developing countries. We could talk at great length about the ongoing reactor meltdowns at Fukushima Japan.
But I called Helen about a story nobody wants to hear about, even though it could threaten us with extinction as much as climate change, and maybe sooner than climate change. Her next a symposium is coming up in New York about the “Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction“. That will be February 28th to March 1st, at the New York Academy of Medicine.
The speakers list for this symposium is simply stunning. Apparently a lot of powerful minds realize the clock is still close to midnight for a devastating nuclear war. The speakers come from universities and major institutions in several countries. Yes Noam Chomsky will be there, and other names you would know. But there are more deep researchers, and some activists, who cover some very dark topics.
Here is the listing for just the first session, on Day One, February 28th.
“* Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, author of “Command and Control,” who will discuss multiple nuclear accidents and near misses.
* Seth Baum, co-founder of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, will discuss the catastrophic risk of nuclear war.
* Max Tegmark, professor of physics at MIT, a Swedish-American cosmologist, will discuss the threat of artificial intelligence and of computers launching a nuclear war with no human input.“
Your hair should be starting to rise about now. Mine is.
Yes, we thought this was all over. Nuclear war is just a shadow of the past, isn’t it? Not really. Helen and I discuss the realities.
An accidental nuclear exchange is still very much part of those realities. The nuclear weapons systems of both Russia and the United States (who between them hold over 90% of all nuclear weapons) – are still set on hair-trigger alerts, pretty well dependent on no computer error. You have experience with computers. Do they make mistakes?
There is also a cyber-war going on right now. Government computers, some even in the Department of Defense, have been hacked. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before a terrorist group, or even a teenager in a basement, launches a nuclear missle. Is that beyond possibility?
Humans make mistakes too. Helen tells us about the shadowy world of men waiting in silos. The President has three minutes or less to decide whether to authorize a launch. The man with the nuclear button, loaded in a device called “the football” follows President Obama every where he goes.
Meanwhile, all these missiles and bombs are getting old, starting to decay in facilities that are corroding. That’s another grave danger. The list goes on until Helen finally says “I don’t know why we are still here” – why we have survived this long.
Caldicott also tells us humans missed the chance to ditch all these nuclear weapons that can never be used. Following the deals to reduce missiles and bombs agreed to by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, President Clinton inherited an alcoholic Russian president Yeltsin, presiding over a fallen state. That was the time, Helen says, the opportunity to make a deal with Yeltsin to demolish the nuclear arsenal. Bill Clinton, says Caldicott, didn’t have the military credibility, or the guts, to do it. Opportunity missed.
Now we see that Russia depends heavily on its nuclear arsenal to keep the United States out of places like it’s former “colony” the Ukraine. Despite heavy propaganda hoping to drum up a new Cold War, millions of Americans and many European states hope America will avoid a major conflict with Russia.
THE IMPACTS OF NUCLEAR WAR
But what happens if arch-enemies India and Pakistan create a nuclear exchange?
Helen Caldicott: “A small nuclear war between India and Pakistan using only 100 nuclear weapons the size of Hiroshima would create what’s called ‘nuclear autumn’. There would be so much dust and oil deposits and radioactive fallout shot up into the stratosphere – it would cause a very big fall in temperature and over a billion people would starve the crops would fail, over a number of years. And that’s only 100 weapons.“
So this is where nuclear war and climate change cross paths. Even a limited nuclear exchange would cause a few years of global cooling. But that dust is eventually washed out of the atmosphere, going back to whatever warming was happening. So it isn’t geo-engineering that accomplishes anything.
Of course the “dust” of a nuclear explosion is really all the toxic materials found in a modern city. That would be toxic to breath, even if it wasn’t also radioactive.
NUCLEAR WINTER – THE OPPOSITE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
One of the speakers at the NYC Symposium is a well-known climate scientist: Alan Robock. Robock has worked with scientist Paul Creutzen. It shows that a full nuclear war between America and Russia would not create “nuclear autumn” but a full-blown nuclear winter.
Alan Robock, Rutgers.
This “winter” would likely be years, perhaps a decade, where the sun could not penetrate the dust clouds to reach the earth. Therefore all plant life would die, and humans also.
Additionally, a big nuclear war would destroy the ozone layer. When the sun finally returns, you would experience third degree burns in 3 minutes outside, and go blind.
Here is what Caldicott says:
“One of the speakers I have at the Symposium is a man called Alan Robock who is a Professor of Meteorology at Rutgers University. He with a guy called Creutzen has done pioneering work about what happens meteorologically if there is a nuclear war.
It would only take a thousand bombs dropping in a hundred cities. But in fact there are two thousand bombs ready to be launched. Now the nuclear exchange would only take about half and hour to an hour between Russia and America.
And as the cities burn, and they are now filled with toxic chemicals, oil refineries, rubber, plastic, timber, you name it. As they burn, a huge cloud of toxic black radioactive smoke will be injected into the stratosphere. It will remain there for over 10 years. It will block out the sun, almost totally, for ten years, producing a tremendous lowering of temperatures and a short ice age, during which most creatures on Earth, including humans, will freeze to death in the dark.“
She adds, “we are talking about the end really of creation, in a certain sense.”
We have a previous parallel on the planet. The Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Yucatan Peninsula, was blown up when an asteroid hit the Earth 66 million years ago. Scientists found that plants all over the world died as dust from the impact blacked out the Sun, likely for years. Many animals went extinct, and a new age began. Is that what we could create with a nuclear war?
If you can make it to New York City at the end of February, the actual symposium is cheap. Something like $60 a day. I don’t know when, or if, another major gathering of people of this stature will happen again. It will be historic.
If you can’t make the symposium, the entire proceedings will be broadcast live over the Internet, from this site.
Older people remember the massive marches against the madness of nuclear weapons. Literally millions of people marched to tell their governments to get rid of nuclear weapons. (We can never use them, as you see). I worry younger people just didn’t grow up with that nuclear fear, and think this has somehow been solved. It hasn’t been solved, and festers like a constant threat to all of us, and everything on the planet.
To be honest Helen, when I read through your list of topics for the symposium, I had the reaction I think many of my listeners might experience. First I was angry, that we still have to deal with all this nuclear madness, and then I wanted to just run away and think of something else. That’s pretty common isn’t it?
Nuclear weapons are so threatening, we have barriers to overcome, just to get people to allow themselves to listen.
Who will warn the world, and lead us against nuclear madness, when Helen Caldicott eventually retires? Where are the new sane young people?
Good luck Helen, and thank you for never giving up.
Here is my reading list from Helen’s seven books that I think you should read. You could start with the latest book she edited: “Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe“. That was just published in October 2014. But I also recommend “War in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space” written with Craig Eisendrath, and of course her classic book “Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else.”
P.S. TWO MORE THINGS
At the end of our interview this week, I also ask Helen Caldicott about the recent deal signed by Obama to promote nuclear reactor sales in India.
And there is distressing news out of Fukushima recently, about the number of kids getting thyroid cancer (a sign of radiation poisoning).
At the end of January, a new video was posted on You tube about the real health impacts at the triple melt-down in Fukushima Japan. A resident there, Chieko Shiina said the Japanese government and health authorities are trying to hide a huge spike in thyroid cancer in children living near the accident site.
The Japanese government does not want the health impacts to get out, because they want to restart dozens of shut-down reactors, mainly to save money to import natural gas. Will the Japanese public let them re-start those reactors, some of them also damaged during the 2011 Tsunami?
ON TO THE COMMONS
The news slaps us in the face: 1% of humans will control more than half the wealth of the world. This is the result of what author David Bollier calls “the market state” – that tight marriage of billionaires, mega-corporations, and our former democratic institutions. A host of problems boil out of this paradigm of power, including climate change. We’ve been told there is no alternative. David Bollier says there is, and it’s an idea we’ve been taught to hate: the commons. His most recent book is “Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons”.
Whatever that is. It’s one of those twisty ideas. The deeper you look, the deeper it gets. David has been at this for 15 years, as an independent scholar, blogger, and writer.
Really, the commons is all around us, in things like the highway system, National Parks and so on. Yet there is a political party in the United States, and in many countries, dedicated to privatizing everything, including prisons, hospitals, and schools. We discuss the forces working against the commons, which is technically called “enclosure” of public wealth.
Another problem with the commons as a tool for survival is our indoctrination. Most of us learned two things in school: the communes all failed, and “communism” is horrible. The multiple failures of the Soviet Union set back communalism for a generation or more.
During the interview, I suddenly realized I totally misunderstood the commons, as Bollier sees it. I was thinking about my own previous experience in the back-to-the-land movement, about enclaves of self-sufficiency like the Amish or something. See the classic “Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America, 1680-1880″ by Mark Holloway for example.
But the real commons is not withdrawing into an island. Instead, it is the broad public space we all own.
RADIO ECOSHOCK DEPENDS DIRECTLY ON THE COMMONS
This show is broadcast by about 88 college and community radio stations. These are non-profit organizations, often staffed or dependent on volunteers, who use the public air waves. By the way, none of those stations pay me anything, which is why I am often seeking donations to keep going.
You are probably using a type of the commons right now to read this. Your free browser uses the public commons of cyberspace. There is all kinds of work in the cyber-commons, including open source software, and information hubs like Wikipedia.
But we could do much more, to protect the commons we have left, and to develop new economic models which do not push 90% of the wealth to 1% of the people. Bollier actually gets me hopeful at times (I hate when that happens).
Humans evolved to live in a commons. And despite the 1968 book “The Tragedy of the Commons” – people all over the world work out systems to individuals don’t abuse the rights of all. Not only can the commons work, it is working in many places right now. Up to 2 billion humans depend on the commons for their survival. It is the modern capitalist human that is out of step with nature and the reality of the commons. In fact, Bollier makes the argument that implementing this different economic model would be crucial to solving climate change.
From Bollier’s web site:
“A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that social trust and cooperation may be an evolutionary reality hard-wired into the human species.4
4, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, The Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); Martin A. Nowak, Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed (New York: Free Press, 2011). “
David Bollier’s web site and blog are a humungous source of info, for beginners and those in depth, about the commons. I was astounded to see Bollier’s blog at bollier.org goes back to 2004! That’s ancient history in the blog world. He also has a series of free podcasts at the site, great for people to educate themselves from their Ipod or mp3 player.
His latest book, just out really, is “Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons”.
Here is a superb essay by David Bollier, which can introduce you to work on this whole concept of the commons, and what it can do for us.
The appropriate music for this segment is David Rovics song “The Commons”. Find folk troubador Rovics soundcloud page here. But I didn’t have room to squeeze it in this week. See David perform this song on You tube here.
WRAP UP AND NEXT WEEK
That’s our show for this week. Next week we’ll talk about the previous great mass extinctions with the British expert scientist Dr. Paul Wignall – and the possibility of our electric grid going down, as just happened when Pakistan went dark at the end of January. Stay tuned to Radio Ecoshock.
Download any or all of our past programs as free mp3 files, from the web site at ecoshock.org.
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I’m Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening, and caring about your world.