Nuclear annihilation and climate catastrophe are the two biggest threats to human existence. This has been confirmed by the atomic scientists that maintain the Doomsday Clock: this year its hands were set at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has been since its foundation in 1947. They cite the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change as the reasons.
We need urgent action to deal with the worsening climate emergency but we need to couple it with nuclear disarmament: anti-nuclear activists and climate change activists are natural allies in dealing with ‘man-made’ catastrophes and the potential extinction of human and multiple life forms. Across the world, the devastating effects of climate change are making war and nuclear conflict more likely, and they’re affecting access to resources such as land, food and clean water across the globe. The fact is, war and climate destruction are two sides of the same coin: war causes climate destruction, and further climate destruction will cause further war, potentially escalating towards nuclear use. This destructive cycle has to be ended. As the climate crisis gains pace there will be increasing pressures, famines and conflicts. It’s time to work together to put an end to both.
Wasting money on nuclear
Every penny of the £205 billion that the UK government is spending on replacing Trident is money that should be spent on combating the climate emergency: it could pay to install solar panels in every home or build enough wind turbines to power all households in the UK.
Misdirecting public resources costs money and lives. As we saw in 2019, the floods across England and Wales caused huge disruption to the lives of thousands of people and councils have had to spend vast amounts on shoring up flood defences. Part of the reason the UK found itself so woefully underprepared for the floods is linked to the fact that the UK’s environment agency, tasked with preparing for such events, has seen its budget cut by 50% since 2010. While the government has now pledged to double the amount it invests in the flood defence programme in England to £5.2 billion over the next six years, this is significantly less than the cost of running Trident over the same period.
Going forward, the costs of the climate emergency will be monumental. Extreme weather will become a more regular occurrence with the government having to spend vast amounts on rebuilding. There are already up to 40 million people worldwide who have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere as a result of climate change and further inaction will see this number, and the resulting pressure on those states still habitable, increase.
Nuclear’s carbon footprint
Trident uses massive energy and resources in research, production, operation, dismantling and eventual waste storage, never mind the environmental catastrophe that would be created if it was ever deployed. This is in addition to the environmental devastation wreaked by decades of uranium mining, nuclear testing and nuclear waste dumping.
A particularly disturbing example of the intersection between climate change and nuclear development can be found in the Marshall Islands. On Runit Island there is a Dome – known locally as The Tomb – containing more than 3.1 million cubic feet of US-produced radioactive soil and debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium which will soon be submerged by rising sea levels, releasing radioactive waste into the ocean.
The shared relationship between nuclear weapons and climate change also means that they have shared solutions. Calls for action on climate change must be coupled with calls for nuclear disarmament: Britain must become a world-leader not only in tackling climate change, but also on disarming nuclear weapons.
The £205 billion saved by cancelling Trident replacement could help fund Britain’s transition to carbon neutrality by 2050, or sooner. The government could use the money to embark on an ambitious Green New Deal plan, enabling a state-led rapid response to the threat of climate change and creating a generation of jobs in renewable industries, insulating our homes, upgrading public transport and restoring green spaces.
Part of that money would allow the government to help re-train the highly skilled engineers and technicians currently working on Britain’s nuclear weapons system, ensuring their skills can be used to guarantee the future of our planet.
It would also allow Britain to set an example to nuclear-armed states across the world, demonstrating how the vast resources freed up by divestment from nuclear weapons can be used in the fight against climate change, helping ensure a future free from the dual existential threats of climate catastrophe and nuclear extinction.
Join us on Saturday 6th November to share the Climate not Trident message at the COP26 protests.