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Editorial: What we are missing

We need a common agenda to tackle the twin threats of climate change and nuclear warfare.

We are of the generation who came of age in the 1980s, terrified that the world might end at any moment through nuclear holocaust. In the decades since then, the people of the world have grown less frightened of a nuclear war.

The risk is still there, as the number of nuclear weapon states increases, and conflicts continue around nuclear tinderboxes, but the fear has declined.

Recent studies suggest that even a ‘small’ nuclear war between India and Pakistan, with each country detonating 50 Hiroshima-sized weapons (about 0.03 per cent of global nuclear firepower), could cause a nuclear winter.

Burning South Asian cities could produce enough high-altitude smoke to lower agricultural production in China and the US by 20 per cent for four years, and by 10 per cent for a decade. Such a war could cause the failure of monsoons, with a 10 per cent reduction in global rainfall, and shorter growing seasons in both hemispheres.

In September, the international institute for strategic studies warned that Pakistan’s development of tactical ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons increased the risks of any conflict there becoming a nuclear war.

So the risks are still there, but the fear isn’t.

A common agenda
Something similar may be the case with climate change.

As PN went to press, the intergovernmental panel on climate change was preparing to deliver its fifth report – while British newspapers were reporting an increase in climate scepticism in the British public.

The human race continues to pump ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (2012 saw a record high of 35.6bn tonnes of human-caused CO2 emissions). Emission trends are ‘perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6° Celsius, which would have devastating consequences for the planet’ (Fatih Birol, chief economist for the international energy agency, May 2012).

What is now needed is a common agenda for social change, and a close working relationship, between disarmers, trade unionists, anti-cuts campaigners, and climate activists. The resources and skills needed to avoid runaway climate change while protecting jobs are currently being wasted in military production and other high-carbon industries. As CND has pointed out, the skills used in places like Barrow-in-Furness for complex submarine and shipbuilding are exactly the same skills needed to develop wave and tidal stream power.

The best way for countries in the Global North to support people in conflict zones around the world, such as South Asia, is to stop launching wars and to start supporting diplomacy, while disarming, democratising and de-carbonising our economies and our political systems.