March 14, 2019

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Sky Falls Only if You Let It

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To the editor:

There’s an earthquake of student action regarding climate change going on. One great example of this is the Juliana v. United States Youth Climate Lawsuit, which is headed for the Supreme Court. Young people filed a lawsuit against the United States federal government in 2015 for violating their and future generations’ right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” by refusing to seriously tackle climate change. Cornell students will surely join in on this scale of climate justice activism.

But there’s something missing here. Despite their multi-tasking fame, millennials focused on environmental justice are often silent about the dangers of nuclear war. It’s a war that, if it happens, will lead to nearly instantaneous climate change in the form of nuclear winter, exponentially accelerating mass extinctions on a planetary scale. Nuclear winter refers to a canopy of atmospheric ash that will encircle the globe, obscure sunlight and threaten food production.

But this silence is lifting. Proponents of the Green New Deal are thinking big and thinking well. They have built a “no first use” nuclear provision into their GNE commitment — a policy in which nuclear powers forswear using their nuclear arsenals unless attacked first with nuclear weapons. This provision is profound because the U.S. just exited the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and first strike narratives are afoot.

Think about the many ways climate change reform and sane nuclear policies support each other. Under conditions of war, governments assert martial law, wherein environmental laws go out the window. Moreover, the U.S. military is among the world’s largest source of global carbon dioxide emissions. Climate reform regresses during wartime. Think of this way: The first casualty of war is the environment and that includes a stable climate.

Students who get the connection between a clobbered climate and nuclear war can take heart. There are tangible ways to get active and be helpful. Besides supporting the GND and the Global Climate Strike, you can foster resolutions at Cornell to divest from nuclear war (as promoted by the Future of Life Institute) and to support the “Back from the Brink” movement (as championed by the Nobel Peace Prize organization, ICAN). The City of Ithaca just passed the “Back from the Brink” resolution.

And how about urging professors lecturing on sustainability to address nuclear arms and what their use will do to jobs, environment and society? You can also attend monthly meetings of the Cornell Nuclear Disarmament Group. On March 18, CNDG is hosting a lecture by Dr. Ira Helfand on the folly of “limited” nuclear war in G08 Uris Hall at 2:00 p.m.

The sky — and the climate we associate with it — will fall only if you let it.

Lissette Lorenz, Ph.D. Student, science and technology studies

Prof. Charles C. Geisler, developmental sociology