Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear weapons have triggered a new geological era

NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN THE ANTHROPOCENE

Nuclear weapons have triggered a new geological era, but what does that really mean ?  Inkstick Media: Peter Waring, 3 May 21, There were a few possible contenders when a working group established by the International Commission on Stratigraphy began searching for a “golden spike” — a geological inflection point marking the end of one era and the beginning of another. ………  

  from a geological perspective, no marker better captures humanity’s impact on the physical environment than the fallout from decades of atmospheric nuclear testing.

In 2019, the Working Group voted overwhelmingly to recommend establishing a new era — the Anthropocene — to record the beginning of the period where humans have drastically altered the planet. The proposed start day was July 16, 1945, the day of the Trinity Test.

The beginning of the nuclear age marks a new stratigraphic boundary in Earth’s history. The “bomb spike,” as it came to be known, represents the level of carbon 14 and plutonium 239 in the atmosphere, both of which peaked in the mid-1960s at the height of the Cold War. And though levels have subsequently reduced — as states limited and finally halted atmospheric testing  — evidence of the spike is now a matter of geological record. In other words, it will exist for as long as the Earth does. But what does this really mean for our security and our environment?

RACING TOWARD CATASTROPHE 

Humanity and the environment are now “mutually transformative — and potentially mutually destructive,” a fact which forces us to confront the possibility that the era of climate stability, known as the Holocene, has ended and that our own collective and individual actions are to blame. Apart from its prominent geological signature, the “bomb spike” is also emblematic of the so-called Great Acceleration, the exponential growth in various metrics of human activity since the mid-twentieth century, which include: population, technology, economic development, industrial output, energy consumption, carbon emissions, and international tourism. These measures have been thrust ever upwards by the spread of extractive capitalism, endless technological innovation, and an underlying assumption that somehow the realm of human activity exists outside and separate from nature. Today, we are not witnessing the failure of this world view. Rather, we are witnessing the consequences of its success.

Nuclear arsenals are regularly justified as a bulwark against threats to the postwar, liberal international order. But it is precisely this global system that has served as the launching pad for the Great Acceleration. And as such, it is difficult to separate our conceptions of wealth, progress, and liberty — the very things nuclear weapons are meant to secure — from the causes of human-induced climate change. We have been led to believe that this skyward trajectory is a good thing, that all of our problems will disappear if only there were more progress, more technology, more freedom. But like Icarus, have we flown too close to the sun?

OUR WORST ENEMY

The Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic weapons, has been described as a “full stop on modernity” — or in other words, the natural terminus of a worldview that separated humankind from our environment. It is the belief that we can do whatever we want to nature and that the Earth exists to support humanity. The Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic weapons, has been described as a “full stop on modernity” — or in other words, the natural terminus of a worldview that separated humankind from our environment. It is the belief that we can do whatever we want to nature and that the Earth exists to support humanity. 

Modernity in this sense is not merely technology or our institutions but rather a mode of thought premised on a belief in human supremacy. Nuclear weapons are the apotheosis of modernity. We can take whatever we want from the Earth and we can destroy it too. Here is the intersection some nuclear threat experts have been looking for,  between the environmental movement and the nuclear movement. Between a cause with seemingly endless cultural cachet and one that appears like a mid-century relic.

The nuclear weapons industry is undoubtedly the source of much environmental damage: There are uranium minesplutonium production facilities, and former test sites. But the true impact exists on a different register altogether. It is more than just the material effects, more even than the devastating ecological impact of a nuclear blast. 

 Atomic weapons are the most extreme example of our world-possessing pretensions. Their existence and central role in our security apparatus is representative of a mode of thought that portrays humanity as the chief protagonist in the story of Earth. The Anthropocene is the point at which the plot changes.

It is also clear that on a planet increasingly defined by human activity the old dichotomies of friend and foe — of good and evil — are no longer relevant. But constructing enemies is at the core of nuclear thinking as only the most extreme adversaries can justify the most extreme weapons.  During the Cold War this was a relatively simple task, albeit one pursued with a kind of cartoonish zeal by politicians on both sides. And while there is a worrisome element of deja vu about the rising discord between Russia and NATO, talk of a new Cold War seems oddly out of place in a world of pandemics and catastrophic climate change. Yet it remains an inescapable feature of the Atomic Age that enemies must be suitably evil and suitably different from us. They must “hate freedom” and they must reject the so-called “rules-based” global order. More significantly, the enemies themselves are largely inconsequential: When they crumble or retreat into the background, we create new ones. As long as the weapons exist there will be myths to justify them. Arundhati Roy perhaps said it best:

“Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behavior. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meat hooks deep in the base of our brains. They are purveyors of madness.”

The Anthropocene forces us to grapple with this madness and to reconsider our need for enemies. It demands that we confront unsettling truths and come to terms with the prospect that the greatest threat to our security and way of life is our way of life.

ADJUSTING OUR POLITICS

The long half-life of the Atomic Age is as much the product of outdated thinking as it is bureaucratic inertia or military strategy. The scholarship surrounding nuclear weapons is held back — stuck — by a kind of thinking that belongs to a different epoch. International Relations (IR) and its dominant paradigms of realism and liberalism have lost whatever explanatory power they once had. They are no longer fit for purpose as either an academic discipline or a collection of governing institutions. They have become a trap of our own making. In fact, IR fails even to acknowledge the threat posed by the Anthropocene or the consequences of inaction.  The global apparatus constructed to manage twentieth-century challenges, such as genocide, nuclear conflict, and world wars has proved disastrously ill-suited to our new era.

This has been particularly true with regards to the supposed preeminence of the nation-state, which serves as the very basis of world governance. But it is precisely this belief — the privileging of the national above the international, of the human above the planetary — that has drawn attention away from the devastation occurring all around us. 

 Viewed from the perspective of deep geological time, the pantomime of global politics and state rivalry has been little more than a distraction. What good are states if their future consists of flooded cities, devastated ecosystems, and uninhabitable wastelands? And can states defend the interests of future generations, both human and non-human?

If indeed the domain of the human and the natural are now indistinguishable, then it follows that our notions of international security and geopolitics must change. What is needed is not more realism or liberalism or business-as-usual diplomacy but rather an altogether new way of organizing the world — a theory of IR based on the belief that the Earth itself matters. …….   https://inkstickmedia.com/nuclear-weapons-in-the-anthropocene/

May 4, 2021 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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