Dr Strangelove warned us of a “Doomsday Machine” that would destroy the entire planet.
“Many years ago, Peter Sellers starred in what many regard as his greatest movie, the black comedy “Dr Strangelove”. It was a spoof – a scary one – about a nuclear conflagration triggered by a nutter in the U.S. military who managed to bypass all security to launch a nuclear attack on Russia. The plan was thwarted but…and this was the horrific storyline …one plane was not recalled in time and proceeded to target. Dr Strangelove warned that the dropping of a single nuclear weapon on the USSR would trigger a “Doomsday Machine” which would destroy the entire planet.
That movie scared me almost as much as the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when, as schoolboys, we stood outside Jack Thunders confectionery shop in Rathmines in Dublin waiting in a state of butt- clenching anxiety for sight of missile trails moving in both directions overhead proclaiming that World War 3 had broken out and that we were now ‘toast’.
Our sense of being toast has returned with a vengeance in the last decade with the sickening realisation that we are wrecking – and have wrecked – our planet. There are countless example of how we did it – the reduction and elimination of rainforests, species and habitat, the pollution of rivers and seas (illustrated eloquently in Liz Bonnin’s “Drowning in Plastic” screened recently on BBC), the loss of arctic ice, and now, as though fulfilling ancient prophecy, fires of biblical intensity in Australia which, at time of writing, show no indication of abating or being extinguished
Waking up on Auckland’s nearby island of Waiheke this week was an eerie experience. Although 1250 miles from the eastern coast of Australia, smoke from burning bushfires had crossed the Tasman Sea producing a smoke cloud over New Zealand- North and South. At the start of last week this gave rise to a blood red sun each morning, a smoky amber haze, but which on Sunday produced an amber cloud which turned day into twilight. It is not difficult to comprehend the levels of worry and concern felt not only in Australia but also in New Zealand and indeed the wider world about the implications of these calamitous events.
If this is the future, Australia has no future. A continent bigger than Europe, its human habitat depends mainly on the relatively narrow strip of land on its circumference. The eastern part of the country is now under severe threat from fire. This could spell disaster for Australia if conflagrations at present levels become a regular aspect of life there. The collapse of its economy would have serious implications for both Australia and the world economy. More serious would be a scenario where life as we currently experience it will no longer be sustainable in many countries – indeed perhaps in every country. The world we now know is a commonwealth – what happens at one end of the world affects and conditions what happens at the other. It certainly offers clear markers for the future, as the constituent elements of accelerated global warming come together like pieces in a kiddies jigsaw.
We seem incapable of getting our heads around the idea that nothing short of radical worldwide action to reverse processes that cause global warming can save our planet. We feel – and perhaps are – utterly powerless to change our fate. We know politicians won’t do it because in a world of capitalistic democracies no electorate and no section of society is prepared to pay the price of reform. Does anybody seriously think that the current deranged leader of the U.S. or the new prankster PM of the UK are going to give real leadership in bringing about change when it is so much easier to deny that any problem exists? As a non- national, politeness demands I make no comment about the response to date of the current Aussie PM.
We now know that Dr Strangelove was wrong: the detonation of a nuclear bomb was not required to trigger the Doomsday Machine – we ourselves have done that through thoughtless disregard for the health and safety of our environment. For a species with intelligence we have behaved like lemmings or like the Easter Islanders whom some believe destroyed everything and ultimately themselves by wrecking their environment. Incredibly we choose instead to keep our heads buried in the sand – perhaps because we cannot bear to contemplate the future that awaits our children and grandchildren.
Yet that upcoming generation has most to lose in the absence of draconian reforms and changed attitudes. It is a matter of great significance that it is from that generation that Greta Thunberg has emerged. This estimable young woman is a Joan of Arc for our times – a clear, untainted and passionate advocate for action on climate change before it is too late
Watching my three grandchildren at play on a New Zealand beach this week has been a joy – evoking memories of summer days of my own childhood spent north of Dublin on the beach at Bettystown when the occasional hot summer offered no threat and when the possibilities of life seemed endless. Perhaps that is why all of what is going on now is so heartbreaking.”
Nicholas Kearns is a former Irish Supreme and High Court judge who has visited Australia and New Zealand many times.