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Mind and habitat: Nuclear and climate threats, and the possibility of hope | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

by Robert J. Lifton

Though closely related, nuclear and climate threats have mostly been treated as separate entities. I, for example, have been immersed for more than a half century in psychological and historical aspects of nuclear weapons, but only during the last year or so have I begun a similar immersion in climate dangers. Why have people like me so neglected the climate dimension?

southbury-fishing-fisherman-cjzurcherOne reason for that neglect is suggested by the ancient saying quoted to me by survivors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima: “The state may collapse, but the mountains and rivers remain.”  Those survivors of a destroyed city were relying on nature as the ultimate fallback, as a permanent entity that would continue to exist, no matter what we human beings perpetrated. That sense of eternal nature seems to be present in the folklore and symbol-systems of all cultures. Nature is perceived as the source of everything: of our minds no less than our bodies, of what we call “human nature.” The idea that this primal source of everything can itself become vulnerable to our behavior is shocking to the point of being almost unimaginable.

Lifton is a lecturer in psychiatry at Columbia University and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at The City University of New York. His books include, most recently, Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2011), Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (University of North Carolina Press, 1991 [1968]) which won a National Book Award, Hiroshima in America: A Half-Century of Denial (Harper Perennial, 1996), and The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (Basic Books, 1986).

For more on this story, visit: Mind and habitat: Nuclear and climate threats, and the possibility of hope | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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