DOCTORS WARN OF TWIN EXISTENTIAL THREAT
CALL FOR TIMELY ACTION
Threat to the existence of mankind has never been so acute as today. We are faced with twin existential crisis due to climate change and nuclear war. Extreme changes in the weather are a cause of grave concern. Untimely rains, storms and hitherto lesser known events like Tsunami, El-Nino etc., have become common occurrence. It is well known by now that human activities are the cause of these speedy changes in the ecology.
Unchecked and unplanned growth coupled with greed is adding to the climate crisis. There is hardly any respite from ever increasing carbon emissions. Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 0.9% in 2022, reaching a new high of over 36.8 Gt (1).
Countries with some of the highest per capita emissions – and therefore high total emissions – are the United States, Australia, and Canada. Australia has an average per capita footprint of 17 tonnes, followed by the US at 16.2 tonnes, and Canada at 15.6 tonnes. The carbon foot print is related to the economic level of a country. For example in just 2.3 days the average American or Australian emits as much as the average Malian or Nigerien in a year (2).
Despite several international conferences, countries responsible for high emissions since long and which has affected the ecology have not agreed to change the course. The ecological changes lead to higher activity by various micro-organisms posing serious challenge to manage new diseases. Millions of deaths from Covid-19 has exposed our capacity to deal with a public health emergency of that magnitude. Vector borne diseases like Malaria, Dengue, Chikungunya have appeared in many new areas.
Displacement of people as a result of extreme weather changes becomes a cause for several demographic changes, even conflicts. These changes affect food security in the affected areas. Despite the fact that world is producing nearly 1.5 times the food required to feed all the people, there is extreme hunger and malnutrition in several parts of the world.
It is unfortunate that even in the situation of extreme global health crisis we found inequities in access to vaccines and treatments between wealthy and struggling nations. A section of the people made huge profits of the crisis. For example in India when people in the cities had no food or shelter and were migrating to their native places, walking hundreds of kilo meters on foot, the income of corporates Ambani increased by 128% and Adani by 480%.
This is the time when the world should have united to fight the Pandemic and learn lesson for a lasting cooperation. On the contrary tensions around the world have been increasing. It is estimated that more than 110 conflicts are going in different parts of the world.
It is more than a year that war between Russia and Ukraine started after Russian invasion of Ukraine. As per estimates several thousand people including more than 20,000 non-combatants have died and over 8 million displaced to other countries. With explicit entry of US and NATO the conflict has attained new dimension. It is no more a conflict between Russia and Ukraine but is becoming conflict between the two major nuclear powers. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) is out to make huge profits from the situation. NATO and the US are looking forward to increase their area of influence. Already Finland and Sweden have declared to join the NATO. Any continuation of the war adds to the possibility of use of nuclear weapons, which in such situations would be catastrophic. Unsurprisingly, the Doomsday Clock has recently been reset to 90 seconds before midnight, the closest it has ever been to global catastrophe.
Doctors around the globe gathered at Mombasa in Kenya under the banner of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) at its 23rd World Congress and cautioned the world not to be complacent about the catastrophe in waiting from the twin existential threat. They warned in clear terms that medical fraternity has no remedy to offer in the event of such an eventuality. The Mombasa Declaration pointed out ‘Whether they are used in Ukraine, in South Asia where two nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, have fought four full-fledged wars, or during any other conflict, the use of nuclear weapons, for whatever reason, would almost certainly escalate into a nuclear war that would kill millions of people outright. Nuclear war would cause a climate disaster of another kind, plunging the world into a nuclear winter where agriculture would collapse and food scarcity would threaten billions of people with starvation, no matter how far removed they were from the conflict itself’.
The declaration further said “Nuclear power, which is an expensive, ineffective, and dangerous response to the climate crisis, also fuels nuclear proliferation by inextricably increasing fissile materials and the capacity to produce them. As we are seeing in Ukraine, nuclear power reactors are vulnerable military targets—essentially huge, pre-positioned radiological disasters-in-waiting. Misplaced investments in nuclear power, besides exacerbating this danger, delay the rapid scale-up of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, and energy storage”.
Doctors expressed serious concerned at that “Military and nuclear weapons spending divert massive resources and create enormous opportunity costs that diminish and delay climate action and also steal resources from many other areas of human and environmental need, including health, shelter, and education. Militarization and armed conflict fuel tensions that diminish international cooperation in many areas, including climate action and disarmament”.
We urgently need to change course if we are to avoid the catastrophic consequences of either a nuclear war or an environmental collapse. The diplomatic and political processes that produced the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) showed the world that a well-organized group of non-nuclear-armed nations, armed instead with scientific evidence and medical expertise about nuclear weapons and nuclear war, and supported by an informed and energized civil society, could effectively make the case that possession of nuclear weapons is illegitimate and that nuclear deterrence is not only foolhardy, but also immoral. Our responsibility is to prevent what we cannot cure.