A talk delivered at the No2Nukes Yes2Peace rally on September 26, 2015
Hi everyone… my name is Jennifer Horsburgh, and I’m a junior at Newton North High School, and also generally known as the girl who rants about politics. There’s not a huge amount of competition for that title, actually.
I grew up hearing my parents go on about the Bush administration and climate change, and so I learned to rant about those, too. Nuclear weapons did not have much of a presence in my political landscape–as a kid, I associated the word “atomic” with ski brands, not devastating weaponry. Then in ninth grade, I began to learn more about nuclear weapons–to learn that nuclear weapons, rather than a sidenote from cold war history, are the other most pressing and alarming threat to our world, along with climate change.
The two are actually quite similar, both in nature and in the way the government acts towards these threats. But especially for people my age, climate change is the one we’ll know more, or anything, about.
Like climate change, nuclear weapons are a threat that many people are able and comfortable to put out of their mind, deny, or downplay the dangers of. They are slow-moving problems, almost invisible until they’re not. But instead of learning from the suffering of people who’ve already experienced their impacts, we barge onward with the nuclear equivalent of business as usual: igniting tensions with Russia, flexing our nuclear muscles, threatening war. We can talk the talk about wishing the world were nuke-free, but if we don’t act to make it so, we can’t expect anyone else to either. Which is convenient, if you happen to be a defense contractor; if you happen to be a teenager who doesn’t like to imagine what her house would look like as a bomb crater, it’s not so convenient.
Also like climate change, the political discourse and course of action on nuclear weapons is riddled with hypocrisy and inaction–or, if action is taken, it’s the bad kind. Obama claims he’ll take action on climate change while supporting dangerous options like fracking, nuclear power, and permitting Shell to engage in arctic drilling–even while he makes speeches on the gravity of the climate situation in the rapidly melting arctic. Similarly, with nuclear weapons, he pledges to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons, while spending a trillion dollars to modernize, not downsize, the stockpile we already have.
To my generation, when and if we think about it, climate change is a pressing threat. we are the next generations that will inherit this ruined earth and deal with the fallout. But nuclear weapons can’t be shunted to a next generation who will be left to worry about them–they are all of our problem, all of the time. The threat they pose did not end with the Cold War, but since my generation has not grown up under their shadow, we don’t really feel the destruction they threaten as so imminent. We aren’t denying that they’re a threat–we simply hardly know it’s there. That gulf of ignorance, at least, should be something we can–and need to–overcome. How can we be alert and involved, after all, if we’re not informed?
I can say that all my life I’ve grown up in fear of the future. I see the world becoming more and more volatile, and all around me people either wring their hands or close their eyes. But the wait-out-the-storm approach won’t help when our apathy itself worsens that storm. Kids my age tell me “I hate politics,” and I tell them, so do I–the world is depressing and infuriating and terrifying. But you can’t live in apathy just because the world looks prettier from there. Nothing will change if you don’t make it. Instead, trillions will keep being spent to fortify a structure that has no place in it for most of us, no place for the safe and sustainable ways of living we might otherwise build. We are not lacking in human resources. We are the future, and if we are the movement, we have to move. If we’re going to fight climate change, we can’t forget about one of the most potent antagonists of the earth–nuclear weapons. We have to take back our world, people my age must take back our future, and organize it according to our needs–our need to live, not on borrowed time, not to the rhythm of ticking time bombs.