Michael KreponMother Nature’s Target List

Lyric of the week:

We got department stores
And toilet paper
Got Styrofoam boxes
For the ozone layer
Got a man of the people
Says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn
Got roads to drive
— Neil Young, “Rockin’ in the Free World”

When we wonks think about target lists and we think about the consequences of nuclear weapons’ use, we consult Alex Wellerstein’s teaching tool, NUKEMAP. As a consequence of our abusive behavior to Mother Earth, I’ve begun to think of a different kind of target list. On a daily basis, multiple targets are struck by extreme weather.

Military bases are not exempt from these natural detonations. Offutt Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Strategic Command, was partially drowned by a surging Missouri River. Repairs will cost about two billion dollars.

Hurricane Michael (no relation) walloped Tyndall Air Force Base, former home of the 325th Fighter Wing. Its reconstruction will cost approximately three billion dollars.

Marines based at Camp Lejeune, the “Home of Expeditionary Forces in Readiness,” were no match for Hurricane Florence. Repairs and reconstruction are estimated to cost upwards of four billion dollars.

Mother Nature is sending us messages with due cause from accumulated grievances. The mantra “clear, hold and build” relates to the Gulf Coast as well as to Afghanistan. Advertising in glossy magazines for the one percenters showcase luxury high-rise condos in Miami. Here’s the only reason to buy one: They offer exceptional views of Category Five storms.

The costs of cleaning up and rebuilding after monster storms are comparable to the projected consequences and costs of a rather small-to-middling nuclear weapon detonation, absent, or course, the radioactivity. These environmental detonations — tornadoes in the midwest, extreme flooding, hurricanes, wild fires, etc., will only get worse.

I recently met with a Senator who, in his youth, focused on nuclear issues in the 1980s and is now working hard to address climate change. We who toil on nuclear issues are short-handed, but I salute him and those who are motivated to do what they can to lessen the wounds we are inflicting on Mother Nature. This type of insistent energy is absolutely necessary, and we know from battles over nuclear issues that it can make a difference.

Decades of hard work to reduce the likelihood of mushroom clouds and the size of nuclear stockpiles paid off. With the end of the Cold War, this legacy is being cast aside by those who believe there is greater safety in freedom of action. This same sentiment –freedom of action– is ruinous to Planet Earth. Freedom of action is taking a severe toll on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate that can sustain or kill more species than we can accurately count.

Environmental protection and protection against nuclear dangers are companion pursuits. We are brothers and sisters in arms and pollution control. If we disregard environmental protection, the number of nuclear weapons we cling to won’t protect us. If we disregard nuclear dangers, we risk wrecking our environment instantaneously, and at a scale that beggars the imagination.

Alas, the need to prevent nuclear detonations has ceased to motivate the way it used to. This is a strange consequence of partial successes. It has taken decades of hard work to establish norms against the use of nuclear weapons on battlefields and against detonations of any kind, including testing. The more previous generations succeeded, the more people disregarded problems that continued to linger and grow.

The first goal of the nuclear/environmental axis was to stop detonations in the atmosphere. When the consequences of atmospheric testing were quickly understood, this became a priority for national leaders. Even though the consequences of environmental poisoning and climate change are now well understood, some national leaders continue to pay lip service to remedial action; one remains purposefully oblivious.

The reasons for this distinction — between urgency relating to atmospheric tests and lassitude regarding environmental damage — are simple enough: profits, jobs, vested interests and the difficulties of transformational change. The military-industrial-congressional complex wasn’t strong enough to continue atmospheric testing in the face of insistent voters; those who benefit from the environment’s distress are way more powerful than the “Nuclear Enterprise.”

When those before us rose up to stop atmospheric tests, the benefits of wise action were obvious and immediate. In contrast, even a sea change leading to political action will not stop the continued pounding Mother Nature has in store for us. That’s the natural consequence of accumulated environmental degradation and climate change. All the more reason to work insistently to change political equations of selective benefit and massive risk.

Environmental detonations constitute a clear and present danger to national security. The same is true, of course, for nuclear detonations. The timelines for pay back from poor judgment are different, but the challenges of both threats are here and now.


  1. M B (History)

    So, is this any surprise to us ? We, (“scientists”) have been crying for years about the impending consequences of unbridled expansion of our civilization into the resources of Earth. So now the, “Chickens have come home to roost” !

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