Building a Movement

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Climate change and nuclear weapons are two existential threats facing the whole of humanity. There are many other problems to address in the world, but first we have to survive. 

Tentative, incremental baby steps are not enough to save us from either of these threats at this point. The consequences are too serious and the risks are too great. Our response must be commensurate with the scale of the threats themselves. That means taking decisive political action to phase out both fossil fuels and nuclear weapons before it’s too late.

This bold political action is not happening, largely because of the undue influence on politicians, particularly in the United States, of multinational corporations who continue to make a handsome profit from extracting and burning fossil fuels as well as from building and maintaining nuclear weapons.

But we can use that to our advantage! Climate and anti-nuclear activists working together, both within the US and around the world, can create a powerful global movement for putting pressure on those multinational corporations. With divestment, boycotts, and stigmatization, the profiteers can be pushed to use their influence to demand a US phase-out of fossil fuels and nuclear weapons (and assistance getting out of the Armageddon business.)

Young people around the world are already leading the demand to take action on climate before it’s too late. In the US, it’s mainly an older generation that’s leading the demand to eliminate nuclear weapons before it’s too late. Bringing these movements together across social and generational divides, and across continents, could be what it takes to ensure our continued survival as a species.

The bottom line is that these movements need each other to progress any further. Both agendas have been badly sidelined by the Ukraine war (and now Israel/Palestine) but also by the growing momentum in the US toward open confrontation with both Russia and China. (That was already well underway before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.) As taxpayer dollars pour into the bowels of the Pentagon with no end in sight, urgently needed funding for climate mitigation gets short shrift. And following the passage of the IRA, some in the climate movement have given up on more meaningful progress, while others have been convinced that the IRA is enough.

How can climate and anti-nuclear activists work together? What can we offer each other? What can we learn from each other? And how can working together speed up progress and increase the chances for success? These are important questions for people who care about the future of the planet and everything they love.

A surprising number of campaigners are already involved in both of these issues, even if one takes precedence at any given time. But for many, one existential threat is quite enough to think about. These issues are huge, complex, and emotionally challenging. Can working together on both issues create “economies of scale” enabling more coordination of efforts?

For example, doctors and health professionals have long been at the forefront of both movements, famously declaring that preventing human-made health crises is a crucial part of their jobs. At the same time, hospitals are some of the key customers that buy from major fossil fuel and nuclear weapons companies, so the health care sector is in a good position to boycott both.  

Fossil fuel divestment is still growing and it’s extremely important, but it could be combined with boycotts and other pressures on the corporations to be more effective. And combining fossil fuel divestment with nuclear weapons divestment could be an even more powerful combination.

Both movements have a lot to offer each other, in terms of tools, strategies, tactics, experience and added energy. The anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s was even bigger than the climate movement is now, and it was arguably more powerful. But now the tables have turned, and the climate movement is ascendant.