By Sammy Slade
Editor’s note: The following was excerpted from remarks given by Sammy Slade at the commemoration of the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on Monday.
Today is the 67th anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and the killing of more then 140,000 people. We are here to remember this horror and to reflect on its significance for us today.
To begin: 140,000 is a number that I want us to bring home. Think of every person you know in Orange County. In the 2010 census Orange County had a population of 133,000. The United States dropped a bomb in 1945 that killed the equivalent of a little more than all who live in Orange County today.
Imagine that three days from today, a bomb will be dropped that will kill all 64,000 who live in Chatham County also.
Empathy is easiest when we are relating to those who are most proximate to us. Beings, places and times that are near are easiest to comprehend. I say this not just in regard to the enormous pain released by these bombs 67 years ago – suffering and loss that we hopefully can still feel here and today.
The atomic bomb is inhuman in scale and inhuman in comprehension. There are approximately 19,000 nuclear bombs on earth today. In 1996 the International Court of Justice declared, “The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet.”
Nuclear power is like so much of modernity that is placed beyond democracy because it is impossible to comprehend and manage before it is too late.
On this anniversary, people in Japan have been making the link between Hiroshima and Fukushima.
One news outlet quotes 68-year-old Setsuko Kumazaki, who lost several relatives in Hiroshima, saying, “Nobody knows the fear and uncertainty Fukushima residents face over radiation levels better than the people of Hiroshima.”
We could approximate the awareness experience has instilled in the Japanese people through some abstract figures. This is all beyond comprehension though.
Meanwhile today, Aug. 6, 2012, climate scientist Dr. James Hansen released a study showing that the crazy weather we have been experiencing everywhere has no explanation other than climate change. Hansen makes the point that if we are to survive on this planet, emissions have to begin dropping by 2015 globally. Even with the global recession we are at a steady rise of 3 percent every year.
To avert runaway climate change, scientists are saying we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent of 2007 levels every year so that we can be 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. This is an incomprehensible task.
Most of our emissions are from electricity use, electricity that we buy from Duke Energy. Duke Energy’s electricity is 60 percent fossil fuels and 30 percent nuclear. Duke plans to use 0.77 percent wind and solar and 2 percent energy efficiency by 2030. Meanwhile, Duke plans to burn 96 percent of the coal that it was burning in 2010 in 2030. Duke also plans to more then double its natural gas generation (fracking) by 2030.
The recent Duke Energy merger was in large part driven to build the capital necessary to attract investments for new nuclear plants that even Wall Street has not wanted to touch as nuclear is an extremely risky investment. To attract Wall Street, Duke is seeking an annual rate-hike bill, which will force ratepayers to pay in advance for nuclear power plants that may never get built, as has happened in Florida.
Nuclear is the most expensive form of electricity generation – and this does not even take into account the many externalized costs! The nuclear pursuit is a misallocation of resources that must be put to better uses.
Wind, solar, efficiency and conservation are saner options but we have leaders who, like their technologies, are the embodiment of incomprehensibility. The first CEO of the new merged Duke Energy received $40 million after only 20 minutes on the job.
In all these statistics, we catch a glimpse of the outrage. Thankfully we have not experienced nuclear disasters like the people who now fight nuclear power everyday have.
The weather has begun to change, and hopefully the experience will be enough to snap us back to comprehension in time.
We need to scale into the human again to reconnect with what surrounds us.
Sammy Slade is a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
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