On 6th and 9th August every year Pax Christi remembers the suffering, death and destruction caused by the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on those dates in 1945. Columbans are members of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace group, and so we join them. They hold a vigil of prayer and reflection outside Westminster Cathedral in London and in other British cities.to remember those first victims of nuclear weapons. Also, to recommit to the abolition’ of these weapons.
Did you know that Britain’s current Trident nuclear weapons system stands poised to attack an aggressor at any time? Of four nuclear-powered attack submarines, one is patrolling at all times. The Ministry of Defence assures that Trident, “remains safe and secure”.
But do nuclear weapons make you feel more secure?
In 2019, it was estimated that there are approximately 3,750 active nuclear warheads and 13,890 total nuclear warheads in the world. So, the world heaved a sigh of relief when the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons entered into force on 22 January 2021. The treaty makes it illegal under international law to develop, manufacture, transfer, possess, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. However, none of the nations that possess nuclear weapons have ratified it. That includes Britain.
Pope Francis welcomed the nuclear ban treaty. The bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki endorsed the treaty too saying that, “as Catholic bishops and Japanese citizens of the A-bombed cities, we share Pope Francis’ confidence that a world free of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary ‘to protect all life.’” They prayed, “that countries that possess nuclear weapons will also ratify it, bringing about the full implementation of the treaty.”
Columbans support that goal, and have a broad understanding of security in the age of such threats as climate change, diminishing biodiversity and mass migrations of people.
Firstly, the climate crisis. More than 30 years ago, Columban Sean McDonagh agreed with scientists who warned that human tinkering with the Earth’s climate amounted to “an unintended, uncontrolled globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war”. Since then, ever-mounting evidence shows that human activities since the industrial revolution are destabilising the climate. In 2003, the year of the US-led invasion of Iraq to supposedly disarm its weapons of mass destruction, a retired former head of the British Met Office, warned in an article in The Guardian newspaper that “if political leaders have one duty above all others, it is to protect the security of their people….. and yet our long-term security is threatened by a problem at least as dangerous as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism: human-induced climate change”. Sir John Houghton warned that the impacts of global warming are “a weapon of mass destruction”. They can strike anywhere, in any form – a heatwave in one place, a drought or a flood or a storm surge in another, he said. Consider what we have seen around the world in recent months! At the time of writing floodwater is raging through several major cities in Pakistan.
Britain’s former chief scientist, Sir David King has warned that, “climate change is not the biggest challenge of our time, it’s the biggest challenge of all time”. He urged rapid decarbonisation, since the widespread burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of climate change, and hailed the emergence of low cost renewable energy and energy storage technologies as the breakthrough that makes a genuinely low carbon economy viable.
Rising temperatures, droughts, and floods, and the increasing acidity of ocean waters could further stress an already limited global food supply, dramatically increasing food prices and potentially triggering internal unrest or the use of food as a weapon. Altered rainfall patterns could heighten tensions over the use of shared bodies of water and increase the likelihood of conflict over water resources. Many argue that addressing environmental issues and food and water security should be the top priority issues for politicians and business leaders everywhere.
Widespread impacts of climate change are already linked to waves of migration. By 2050, as many as 150 million people may have fled coastlines vulnerable to rising sea levels, storms or floods, or agricultural land too arid to cultivate. Historically, migration to urban areas has stressed limited services and infrastructure, inciting crime or insurgency movements, while migration across borders has frequently led to clashes over land and resources.
So, let’s build real security.
Throughout August the Young Christian Climate Network will continue its relay from the G7 meeting in Cornwall to November’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to raise awareness of COP26 and our imperative as Christians to engage in creation care. Columbans are supporting this relay by walking part of the route later this month.
Many feel it is time to comply with Britain’s obligation under international law to accomplish the total elimination of our nuclear arsenal. By doing so we would send a message to the world that focus will turn to spending for peace and development, and meeting people’s needs for defence from such things as poverty, extreme weather and tensions over mass migration.
All powerful God, pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with your peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it.