Wednesday, May 29, 2013

John Kenneth Galbraith's "Age of Uncertainty: Democracy Leadership Commitment"

Continuing with John Kenneth Galbraith's 1977 documentary series, The Age of Uncertainty, Episode 12, Democracy Leadership Commitment:

In the companion volume, Galbraith concludes with a reminder about "the truth ... that this small planet cannot survive a nuclear exchange":

We do not yet confront this truth. Asked if we want life for our children and grandchildren, we affirm that we do. Asked about nuclear war, the greatest threat to that life, we regularly dismiss it from mind. Man has learned to live with the thought of his own mortality. And he now has accommodated to the thought that all may die, that his children and grandchildren will not exist. It's a capacity for accommodation at which we can only marvel. I suspect that our minds accept the thought but do not embrace the reality. The act of imagination is too great or too awful. Our minds can extend to a war in some distant jungle and set in motion the actions that reject it. But not yet to the nuclear holocaust.

A commitment to this reality is now the supreme test of our politics. None should accept the easy evasion that the decision is not ours. The Russians are no less perceptive, no less life"enhancing, no more inclined to a death wish than we. Their experience of the death and devastation of war is far more comprehensive than ours. We must believe, for it is true, that they are as willing as we are to commit themselves to this reality, to the existence of this threat to all life and to its elimination.

That, indeed, is the highest purpose of politics in both countries, one that far transcends the differences in economic or political systems. For after the first exchange of missiles, as Khrushchev was moved to warn the world, the ashes of Communism and the ashes of capitalism will be indistinguishable. Not even the most passionate ideologue will be able to speak of the difference, for he too will be dead. In an age when so much is uncertain, there is one certainty: This truth we must confront. [my emphasis]
It's real grounds for optimism about the human future that a full-scale nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union was avoided. It was the assumption at the time that any use of nuclear weapons by one of the superpowers against the other would surely lead to a full-scale nuclear exchange.

The nuclear danger is far from over. This is something of which I'm reminded every time people whose judgment I respect say that climate change is the biggest challenge we face today. I still see the danger of nuclear war as a more urgent challenge.

But Galbraith's reflection on how difficult it was for people to grasp the nuclear danger in its true dimensions and urgency is also relevant to our difficulty today in coming to terms with climate change and its real effects and its alarming trajectory. (See: Justin Gillis, Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears New York Times 05/10/2013)

On climate change, Al Gore recently wrote 400 ppm Al's Journal 05/10/2013):

Our food systems, our cities, our people and our very way of life developed within a stable range of climatic conditions on Earth. Without immediate and decisive action, these favorable conditions on Earth could become a memory if we continue to make the climate crisis worse day after day after day.

With any great challenge comes great opportunity. We have the rare privilege to rise to an occasion of global magnitude. To do so, our communities, our businesses, our universities, and our governments need to work in harmony to stop the climate crisis. We must summon the very best of the human spirit and draw on our courage, our ingenuity, our intellect, and our determination to confront this crisis. Make no mistake, this crisis will demand no less than our very best. I am optimistic because we have risen to meet the greatest challenges of our past.

So please, take this day and the milestone it represents to reflect on the fragility of our civilization and and the planetary ecosystem on which it depends. Rededicate yourself to the task of saving our future. Talk to your neighbors, call your legislator, let your voice be heard. We must take immediate action to solve this crisis. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. Now.
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