Nothing threatens sustainability more than nuclear weapons. And yet these weapons are rarely considered in discussions of sustainability, which tend to focus on resources and environmental degradation. The simple fact is that nuclear weapons are capable of destroying not only our most precious global resources and degrading our global environment, but of destroying civilization if not humanity itself. The possession and threat to use nuclear weapons also afflicts the souls and spirits of their possessors.

Nuclear weapons are a holocaust waiting to occur, but this understanding is obscured by comforting though unprovable theories of deterrence. Decision makers and the public alike confuse deterrence with defense. In fact, deterrence is not defense. Deterrence is only a theory that an attack can be prevented by threatening to retaliate. It is a bad theory because deterrence cannot prevent attacks that occur by accident or miscalculation, nor attacks by terrorists or criminals who have no fixed place to retaliate against.

National security “experts,” such as Henry Kissinger, who propound theories of deterrence, are the sorcerers of our time. The public is expected to be humble before the apparent wisdom of such self-absorbed theorists. Clearly, there has been a price to pay for accepting their rhetorical invocations in the name of national security. The price is the willingness to place in jeopardy our human future, and our own humanity.

Nuclear weapons incinerate human beings and other forms of life on a massive scale. This lesson was not lost on the people of Japan, who experienced two attacks with atomic weapons. It was apparently lost, however, on those who used these weapons. The possessors of nuclear weapons, and particularly Americans and Russians, suffer the delusion that they are protected by these weapons.

Obstacles to the elimination of nuclear weapons include official secrecy concerning nuclear policies, lack of public discourse on these policies, confusion and muddled thinking regarding deterrence by policy elites, and a lack of courage and imagination on the part of political leaders. All of these translate into a lack of political will to radically change nuclear policies and take bold steps toward the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

Until the public demands the abolition of nuclear weapons, the world will remain hostage to these instruments of genocide residing in the hands of mere mortals. What will arouse the public from its stupor? This may be the most important question of our time. Moral and legal arguments have not prevailed. Arguments concerning the concentration of power and undermining of democracy have not succeeded. Not even arguments concerning the vulnerability of citizens of nuclear weapons states to others’ nuclear weapons have awakened the power of the people.

We live at a critical time in human history, in which we share the responsibility to pass the future on intact to the generations to follow. On the shoulders of those of us now living has fallen the responsibility to end the nuclear weapons era, or to face the almost certain spread of nuclear weapons and the likely use again, by accident or design, of these instruments of genocide.

Sustainability and a future free of nuclear weapons are inseparable. Anyone concerned with a sustainable future should embrace the abolition of nuclear weapons, and become a vocal and active advocate of this cause. Because nuclear weapons abolition affects the future as well as the present, this cause provides an important challenge to the youth of today, who are the inheritors of the future.