nuclear bomb test

At a time when the urgency of climate change and the wider environmental crisis has made international peace and cooperation more essential than ever before, there are all the signs of moving away further from this. Seldom have we seen the spectacle of the three biggest military powers the USA, Russia and China becoming more aggressive and defiant at the same time.

In addition two of the potentially big military powers, also known for their exceptionally high destructiveness during the first half of the previous century (Germany and Japan), have embarked recently on the rearmament path with more vigor than ever before in the post-war years.

In the 77 post- war years nuclear weapon countries have been added at the rate of about 1 per 8 years and at this rate we should have 18 instead of the present 9 by the end of this century. However as technology advances, this rate can easily increase. Several countries are likely to be willing to accept the risks and costs of joining the nuclear weapons club.

Also there is the increased possibility of ‘non-state actors’ or terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons, perhaps with the hidden support of some ‘rogue regime’. The risk of battlefield use of tactical nuclear weapons too has increased, as also the risk of mistaken or accidental use of such weapons. Despite the international ban on them, chemical and biological weapons too remain a big threat in many ways. The development of robot weapons brings several new risks as well. Space warfare remains a possibility, an increasing possibility, accidental or intended.

All signs show that the Ukraine crisis is moving further away from peaceful resolution in the near future. The chances of Ukraine becoming the flashpoint of a clash between Russia and, if not the USA, at least one of the NATO members are increasing. The chances of Taiwan becoming an almost equally critical flashpoint in US-China relations certainly exist. Beyond the more serious threats  involving the biggest nuclear weapon powers, the smaller ones are capable of committing their own folly too, accidental or intended.

At the same time unprecedented ice melts of glaciers, scorching weather, frightening wildfires and other escalating disasters indicate that the march of climate change may be even faster than what scientists have been warning. What is more, climate change is only one of about a dozen serious and worsening inter-related environmental problems which together can disrupt the basic life-nurturing conditions of our planet.

On top of it the most worrying possibility is that a big enough exchange of nuclear weapons, involving about 0.5% of the existing stock of nuclear weapons, can also bring catastrophic changes in weather within a matter of days, by obstructing sunlight in a significant part of earth and in other ways, denying  food and spreading disease.

If the risks are so great today, surely world leadership must prepare for an equal response which unfortunately has been sadly missing so far. The risks from climate change and related environmental problems as well as weapons of mass destruction have increased steadily in the 21st century. Both of the major factors that can most harm life-nurturing conditions of our planet have been worsening, even as the scientific evidence of the possibility of irreversible harm with tipping points leading to unprecedented danger zones increases. It is almost as if the capacity of humanity to prevent its own destruction has been compromised badly by invisible forces. Leaders of powerful countries spend their years catering to their much narrower objectives and interests, leaving the most urgent tasks of universal importance unattended. This has not changed despite climate scientists and others warning of the worst.

There has to be a way out of this self-imposed incapacity of tackling the most urgent issues. There can be more hopes from generation next, who will be living their life in the potentially most dangerous remaining decades of this century. Freer of the past baggage than the present generation of leadership, the new generation may be more willing to try out those much bigger avenues of peace and environment protection that have been missed in the recent past by the present leadership.

To increase this possibility, one big initiative that must be taken at the world level just now without any further delay should be to initiate worldwide campaigns on the urgency of peace and environment protection and the various possibilities of taking this further. This campaign must reach out in particular to students in educational institutions at all levels. The present day world leadership, in various powerful countries and in the United Nations and various international institutions, may not have resolved the most urgent issues of our deeply troubled world, but they can still make an important contribution and leave behind a legacy of peace and environment protection by initiating such a worldwide campaign as early as possible and ensuring its continuity over the next few years at least.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Protect Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Protecting Earth for Children.


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