On behalf of the World Future Council (WFC), I extend a warm greeting to each of you. I want to tell you a little about the World Future Council. I will then focus my remarks to nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the relationship between them – an issue on which all Americans need to awaken and focus.
The WFC is a relatively new organization. It seeks to be a voice for future generations. I remember seeing a book many years ago entitled, Who Speaks for Earth? This is what the World Future Council is attempting to do for future generations – to be their voice in the decisions that will affect them.
The Council is composed of 50 Councilors from throughout the world, all of whom have dedicated their lives to pursuing a better future for humanity. The vision and achievements of these Councilors are quite remarkable. I am honored to be among them.
The founder of the WFC is Jakob von Uexküll, who also founded the Right Livelihood Awards, which are known as the Alternative Nobel Prizes. These prizes, presented in the Swedish Parliament the day before the Nobels, honor those who work for peace, justice, human rights and a healthy environment. The chair of the Council is Bianca Jagger, a tireless campaigner for human rights, the environment and future generations.
Two principal projects of the WFC are one on Climate and Sustainability and one on Future Justice. Of course, these are interrelated. You cannot have future justice without a sustainable planet, and issues of energy supply and its consequences will affect both of these areas.
My work on the WFC has been primarily in the area of Future Justice. Our concern is not only how to create a more just future that embodies principles of intergenerational equity, but also how to assure that there is a future. Our actions today that could foreclose the future need to be reframed as crimes against future generations.
What could foreclose the future? One area is certainly radical change in the earth’s climate, making the earth uninhabitable for humans. The other major area is nuclear war. Nuclear weapons continue to threaten the future of humanity, despite the fact that many, perhaps most, people on the planet think the problem went away with the end of the Cold War. Most of us in this country are ignorant and apathetic about nuclear weapons. Those who are aware of the serious threats posed by these weapons, often feel impotent to influence policy. I want to emphasize that the problem has not gone away, and humankind remains threatened by the devastating power of these weapons.
There are still more than 25,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine countries, with 95 percent of these in the arsenals of just two countries: the United States and Russia. There remain some 3,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired in moments of an order to do so. It would take just one nuclear weapon to destroy a city and a relatively small number of nuclear weapons to destroy a country. Nuclear weapons place the future of civilization and the human species in jeopardy of annihilation.
It is for these reasons that 26 years ago I was a founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a non-profit and non-partisan civil society organization. This name is meant to imply that peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age. As most of the original atomic scientists understood, in the Nuclear Age we have to abolish not only nuclear weapons but war itself.
Let me share with you three ideas that are contained in a recent article I wrote in the form of a Briefing for the New President on US leadership for a world free of nuclear weapons. The briefing is called A Return to Sanity and this is the way it begins:
The most important thing to understand about nuclear weapons is this: these weapons do not and cannot provide physical protection to their possessors. Please let this thought sink in.
The second most important thing to understand about these weapons is that they are weapons of genocide writ large or, as the philosopher John Somerville has labeled them, weapons of omnicide, capable of the destruction of all. These weapons put at risk the future of humankind and most life on earth. Please also let this thought sink in.
The third most important thing to understand about nuclear weapons is that they are in the hands of human beings with all their frailties and fallibilities, and, as such, these weapons are disasters waiting to occur. Please let this thought sink in as well.
There are many reasons to oppose nuclear weapons. They are immoral, illegal and cowardly; they waste our scientific and monetary resources; and they undermine democracy by concentrating power in the hands of a few individuals. The most important reason, however, is pragmatic. These weapons threaten the human future, just as climate change does. And they undermine the future of powerful states, including the US, as well as of those that are not so powerful.
There is only one way out of the nuclear dilemma, and that requires US leadership. Without US leadership, we will drift toward nuclear annihilation. We are likely to witness the further proliferation of nuclear weapons to states and terrorist groups. One thing we know with certainty is that terrorists cannot be deterred. Therefore, there is zero room for error in preventing terrorists from obtaining these weapons.
For nearly every country that has developed nuclear weapons, the path has been through civilian nuclear reactors for research or energy. That is the best argument I know of, although there are many more, as to why nuclear energy is the wrong path to a sustainable energy future. Nuclear power is a pathway to nuclear proliferation. In addition, it generates waste that will burden thousands of future generations. Despite trying for the past sixty years, no one has a good answer about how to store the tremendously dangerous waste from nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy also requires large societal subsidies, such as assured low limits on liability for accidents that may occur and the decommissioning of the nuclear plants no longer generating power. Nuclear power plants are also attractive targets for terrorists.
These large, expensive, dangerous and heavily subsidized plants are not the answer to our energy problems. They cannot provide the truly safe and clean energy that can be found in the sun, the winds, the tides and other forms of renewable energy.
At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation we are calling upon the next president of the United States to make a world free of nuclear weapons an urgent priority and to take seven critical steps:
- De-alert. Remove all nuclear weapons from high-alert status, separating warheads from delivery vehicles;
- No First Use. Make legally binding commitments to No First Use of nuclear weapons and establish nuclear policies consistent with this commitment;
- No New Nuclear Weapons. Initiate a moratorium on the research and development of new nuclear weapons, such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead;
- Ban Nuclear Testing Forever. Ratify and bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
- Control Nuclear Material. Create a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty with provisions to bring all weapons-grade nuclear material and the technologies to create such material under strict and effective international control;
- Nuclear Weapons Convention. Commence good faith negotiations, as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons;
- Resources for Peace. Reallocate resources from the tens of billions currently spent on nuclear arms to alleviating poverty, preventing and curing disease, eliminating hunger and expanding educational opportunities throughout the world.
Let me end here with a quote from The Little Prince: “‘It’s a matter of discipline,’ the Little Prince told me. ‘When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.’”
I wish you a very productive meeting and great success in tending to our planet.