The most stunning and frightening truth about the nuclear age is this: Nuclear weapons are capable of destroying civilization and most complex life on the planet, yet next to nothing is being done about it. Humanity is flirting with extinction and is experiencing the “frog’s malaise.” It is as though the human species has been placed into a pot of tepid water — metaphorically with regard to nuclear dangers and literally with regard to climate change — and appears to be calmly treading water while the temperature rises toward the boiling point. In this piece, I focus on the metaphorical pot of heating water, heading toward a boil, representing the increasing nuclear dangers confronting all humanity.
Disconcertingly, there is virtually no political will on the part of nations in possession of nuclear arsenals to alter this dangerous situation; and, despite legal obligations to negotiate in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament, there is no major effort among the nuclear-armed and umbrella countries to achieve nuclear zero. While the non-nuclear-armed countries have negotiated a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and are working to bring this treaty into force, those countries that possess the weapons and those sheltering under their nuclear umbrella have not supported the new treaty.
All nine nuclear-armed countries boycotted international negotiations on banning and eliminating nuclear weapons. In addition, each of these countries is in the process of modernizing its nuclear arsenal, thereby wasting valuable resources on weapons that must never be used, and doing so while basic human needs for billions of people globally go unmet and unattended. Despite this unjust and deplorable situation, most of the 7 billion people on the planet are complacent about nuclear weapons. This only adds fuel to the fire under the frogs.
In the nuclear age, humanity is challenged as never before. Our technology, and particularly our nuclear weapons, can destroy us and all that we hold dear. But before we can respond to the profound dangers, we must first awaken to these dangers. Complacency is rooted in apathy, conformity, ignorance and denial — a recipe for disaster. If we want to prevail over our technologies, we must move from apathy to empathy; from conformity to critical thinking; from ignorance to wisdom; and from denial to recognition of the danger. But how are we to do this?
The key is education — education that promotes engagement; education that forces individuals and nations to face the truth about the dangers of the nuclear age. We need education that leads to action that will allow humanity to get out of the metaphorical pot of heating water before it is too late.
Education can take many forms, but it must begin with solid analysis of current dangers and critiques of the lack of progress in stemming the dangers of the nuclear age. We need education that is rooted in the common good. We need education that provides a platform for the voices of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need education that makes clear the instability and dangerous nature of nuclear deterrence. We need education that challenges the extreme hubris of leaders who believe the global nuclear status quo can survive indefinitely in the face of human fallibility and malevolence.
We need education that can break through the bonds of nuclear insanity and move the world to action. We need the public to speak out and demand far more of their leaders if we are to leap from the pot of heating water, avert disaster and reach the safe haven of nuclear zero.
David Krieger is a founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and has served as its president since 1982. He is the author and editor of many books on nuclear dangers, including “ZERO: The Case for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.”