For close to 75 years humans have accepted life under the shadow of great loss—Loss of everything they value, including their lives. In the case of nuclear weapons, they were convinced that having them, with the readiness to use them, was mandatory to protect everything they value. They have accepted this for 75 years without serious challenge, or rather, serious but ineffective for lack of sufficiently broad support. Fear of the alien outsider apparently trumps fear of the grave dangers inherent in choosing nuclear weapons to defend against it, and so far has precluded exit toward alternatives.

Climate disruption, on the other hand, promises no benefits, no protections against anything, except those claimed by rationalizers and deniers who revel at the prospects of an ice-free Arctic and warmer winters and uninterrupted profitability. Rather than benefits, the coming climate calamities promise massive losses.

Neither nuclear weapons nor climate disruption were forced on humans by fate. They are chosen. And not one choice only, but chosen and re-chosen, re-chosen every day, with the same content and alternatives and parameters and the same predictable consequences. One choice and one response renewed daily.

Who cannot wonder at this? Seek explanations, overlooked or disregarded turns in the road? Stepping back from fear and complacency, wonder how and why? Who benefits and how were those who do not benefit—in fact, who are seriously threatened by the consequences, some potential, some already emerging—convinced to accept these pigs in a poke?

How different could it have been under prevailing conditions of leadership and value? Once arisen, did a form of predestination assert itself: new circumstances that resembled ones that humans had experienced and survived before were treated as if merely an extension of the old and thus not alarming except to the few who perceived and took seriously the crucial differences: This new form of warfare is unlimited in its potential destructiveness; This creeping climate change is not just uncontrollable bouts of “bad” weather.

But few were so serious. Among the reasons, surely the growth in human population had a part. At the end of WWII there were about 2.5b. people on Earth and in the 75 years since—as fecund as rabbits and without an effective predator to keep us in check—we tripled that figure and are pushing on past. The more of us there are, the less we may feel we matter from an ethical perspective. (How much does one person out of 7.7b. really amount to?) Scaling up always reaches a point of diminishing returns. Big business, big government, big anything: eventually it becomes narrowly self-absorbed, less responsive to its environment, and less concerned with original purposes and values. And ironically, the burgeoning populace becomes less effective at controlling the oligarchy of powers—fewer in number as time proceeds but more potent individually—that parasitize them.

Add to this the power mania that afflicts some. Building more and bigger bombs, more and longer-range missiles and bombers, more sophisticated and deadly ships, and submarines; soon more equals potency and the association may feel as if it rubs off on the grim gents who sit at the big tables and make the decisions. It becomes its own raison d’etre, one can destroy, therefore he is, and the masses credulously abide. Economic factors inevitably infiltrate; defense expenditures are spread about the land, and jobs and lobbyists. A new kind of power mixes in. If true peace is victim in this domain, stability within the climatic range that allowed civilization to arise is equally innocently sacrificed, along with concomitants of a healthy Nature—biodiversity, fertile land, clean air and water, a vibrant ocean. For a people and a polity where totalistic devotion to materialism, to the economy, rules the culture, could restraint in either domain have a chance? Some questions are hard to ask and the ruling class strives to make it harder when its prerogatives seem to them endangered.

Which leads to another feature that helps to explain the momentum fostered by the industries of defense and commerce—truthfulness takes a beating. Deception allows arms races, justifies wars, and obscures the passing away of a pleasant and nurturant Gaia. Egoistic gratifications for a few while the many who are compliant pick up the pieces and are the first to suffer the consequences. Who was called to defend the rationality and cost effectiveness of tens of thousands of weapons when a well-placed few detonation would have made for a very bad day? And where else could scientific evidence be treated as mere opinion as some have willed to trade the future for today’s bottom line?

Human organization requires leadership and human nature is to accept it, especially if it appears fair and competent or if it taps into semi-conscious needs and feelings. What part have incompetent and corrupted leadership played in the evolution of these twin demons? What part an incurious, complacent citizenry?

It could not have been different than it was, it appears. The best evidence for this—we have begun to do it again with a reprise of the Cold War/Red Scare phenomenon. And we sit on the cusp of the final years during which human action could avert the worst consequences of climate disruption and climate crisis—before geophysical automaticity asserts itself over anthropogenicity—and we dawdle. A species-wide learning disability reveals itself and before long there will be nothing to learn beyond survival in a desecrated and decimated landscape.

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