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The Defining Issue of Our Time

Noted climate scientist Alan Robock addresses SGI-USA members and guests about the timely subject of climatic and humanitarian impacts of nuclear war, New York, March 4. Photo by MARCO GIANNAVOLA.

by Jihii Jolly

NEW YORK, March 4—SGI members, friends and distinguished guests filled the main auditorium of the SGI-USA New York Culture Center for a lecture by noted climate scientist Alan Robock, on the climatic and humanitarian impacts of nuclear war.

Dr. Robock, a distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University, is the lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

This was the first event of the SGI-USA’s 2020 Culture of Peace Distinguished Speaker series, which, this year, will focus on the climate crisis and its impact on important issues of the day, such as human rights, nuclear weapons, economic justice and implications for youth and vulnerable communities.

“So here’s the story,” Dr. Robock began, pointing to a sobering image on the screen.

“This is our beautiful planet, but after a nuclear war, it might look like this, with a cloud of smoke covering the planet generated by fires that would be ignited by atomic weapons, and the smoke would be heated by the atmosphere and go up and travel into the southern hemisphere and cover the planet.”

If there was enough smoke, it would produce a nuclear winter, which would be the equivalent of dramatic and instant climate change impacting temperatures, precipitation, food supply and exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

He then reviewed the history and current state of deployed nuclear warheads on the planet, and in particular pointed to the impact that scientists from both Russia and the United States, including himself, were able to have on helping politicians leading the arms race during the Cold War to de-escalate, once they understood what a nuclear winter could do.

Given the nuclear arsenal still being developed today, Dr. Robock concluded that nuclear war between any two nuclear states, using even one warhead could produce rapid, unprecedented climate change, which would have devastating impacts on the livability and food supply on our planet. However, individuals can effect important change, he stressed.

When asked about the 10-year “deadline” to lower emissions in order to reverse climate change, Dr. Robock was optimistic because today we have all the technology and information to make it happen. All we need is political and social will.

Dr. Robock concluded that “the only rational course of action” is to cease living under the conditions in which our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away. “Dr. Seuss said, ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.’”

This echoed a key point in SGI President Ikeda’s 38th annual peace proposal, “Toward Our Shared Future: Constructing an Era of Human Solidarity,” issued to the international community, including the United Nations, on Jan. 26 (see In it, he refers to the climate crisis and nuclear weapons as threats to all people living on earth, both now and future generations.

“Because climate change is an issue that will leave no one untouched, it has the potential to catalyze a new global solidarity and action,” President Ikeda writes, adding that our success or failure to actualize this potential is the defining issue of our time.

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