A clear argument that “confronting the full danger of nuclear and climate devastation enables us to sustain rather than destroy our species.”
Renowned psychiatrist Lifton (Witness to an Extreme Century, 2011, etc.), a winner of the National Book Award, explains his use of the term “swerve” to describe “a significant, if not always logical or clear, shift in the way people experience their world.” In this instance, the shift reflects the recognition of the dangers posed by global warming. The author is best known for his study of how decent people come to accept an apocalyptic view of the future and even condone atrocities such as the bombing of Hiroshima. He compares the attempt to normalize the use of nuclear weapons to the current claim that climate change is a hoax. “Like global warming,” writes Lifton, “those weapons raised doubts about the future of our species.” Failing to accept the reality of global warming, Donald Trump and his corporate backers continue to encourage the reckless consumption of fossil fuels. The author points out that nuclear radiation is also an environmental issue even though the threats posed by nuclear weapons and global warming are significantly different. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused sudden “unprecedented slaughter and suffering,” while the effects of climate change are incremental. However, in both instances, acceptance of existing political power structures has led to widespread failure to act in a timely fashion. The similarity between them is in the quality of the responses they evoke; they both reflect a dangerous human tendency to “suppress and distort our perceptions of their danger” by “normalizing” them. Lifton argues forcefully for a significant swerve in popular understanding of the catastrophic potential of global warming, and he cites the 1982 million-person anti–nuclear weapons march in New York City as an example of the level of response needed regarding climate change today.
A powerful and well-reasoned call to action.