Ira Helfand Addresses 2014 Nobel Peace Laureates Summit



Now, Ira Helfand, representing International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, awarded in the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for
performing a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and
by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of the atomic war. IPPNW was founded in 1980 by physicians from United States and the former Soviet Union, who shared
a common commitment in the prevention of nuclear war between their two countries. The goal
of this international institution is to abolish nuclear weapons and prevent war and end violence. What is your proposal for avoiding war in
the world? Well we just heard about a important convention to ban chemical weapons. Unfortunately when it comes to nuclear weapons, the most destructive weapons of all, there is no convention to ban them. And so currently, what we are seeking, is to build support around the world for a nuclear weapons ban convention, that will
prohibit these weapons, stigmatize these weapons, and lead to their complete elimination. We working through a broad umbrella group called the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, which involves over 360 NGOs around the world, many of them led by young people, and, ah, an organization,
a campaign, which is open to everyone to join. The problem I think with nuclear weapons is
that people have tended to forget that they're there. Um, but as we were told in the last
session, there are still 16,000 of these weapons in the world, and recent studies have shown
that if just a hundred small nuclear weapons were used in a conflict — this might happen
between India and Pakistan — there would be enough disruption of the world's climate to
cause significant decreases in food production. And a study that our organization has released,
has shown that this disruption would lead to a global famine that could put up to two
billion people at risk of starvation. That's a limited nuclear war. A larger war would be far worse. Let me tell
you, and I'm addressing this mainly to the young people who I think probably have not
heard this information before, and I'm sorry to tell you there is one more thing you need
to worry about in your lives… A large war; let's look at a single city.
In Hiroshima, a bomb of 15KT, 15 thousand tons, destroyed the city and killed 150,000
people. In a modern nuclear war, it wouldn't be one
bomb, it would be many bombs. And they would be much larger. A large city like Moscow,
London, New York, would probably be attacked with ten or fifteen, maybe twenty bombs. Each
thirty times bigger than the Hiroshima weapon. It's hard to imagine all these explosions
going off all at once, so let me use the model of single twenty megaton explosion. More megatons
than would actually be used, but less destruction than would actually caused in a modern attack.
Within a thousandth of a second of the detonation of that bomb, a fireball would form reaching
out for three kilometers in every direction, six kilometers across, in that entire area,
the temperature would rise to 20 million degrees and everything would be vaporized.
The buildings, the trees, the people, the upper level of the earth itself would disappear.
To a distance of six kilometers in every direction, the explosion would generate winds greater
than a thousand kilometers per hour, that destroys anything that human beings can build.
To a distance of nine kilometers in every direction, the heat would be so intense that
automobiles would melt. To a distance of twenty-five kilometers in every direction, the heat would
still be so intense that everything flammable would burn: paper, cloth, wood, heating oil,
gasoline, it would all ignite. Hundreds of thousands of fires which would coalesce over the next half hour, into a giant firestorm fifty kilometers across… within this entire
area, the temperature would rise to 800 degrees Centigrade. All of the oxygen would be consumed,
and every living thing would die. In the case of Rome, three million people dead, in half
an hour. In the case of New York, perhaps twelve to fifteen million people dead. And
if this were part of a large-scale conflict between the United States and Russia, this
level of destruction would consume every major city in the United States, in Russia, and
if NATO were drawn into the conflict, every major city in Europe as well. Perhaps half a billion people dead in half
an hour. But that's not the worst part of this story.
Because a conflict involving just those weapons, which would be left in the US and Russian
arsenals when the new START Treaty is fully implemented in 2017, that war would cause climate
disruption far greater than the limited war in South Asia that I referred to before. It
would drop global temperatures 8 degrees Centigrade on average, in the interior of North America
and Eurasia the temperatures would drop something like 25 to 30 degrees Centigrade. We've not had conditions
on this planet that bad for 18,000 years, since the coldest moment of the last Ice Age. The
three years in the northern hemisphere there would not be a single day free of frost. The
temperature would go below zero every single day. Ecosystems would collapse, food production
would stop, and the vast majority of the human race would starve to death. It is possible
we would become extinct as a species. This is not some nightmare scenario I have
cooked up. This is the danger which we face everyday that these weapons continue to exist,
sitting on missiles that could be launched in a few minutes time. A very smart woman, on hearing my presentation
once said, um, "It must be very difficult being you, carrying all this stuff around in
your head." On this occasion she was actually wrong; it's not difficult being me, because
while this is the future that we will face if we don't take action, this is not the future
that must be. Nuclear weapons are not a force of nature.
They're not an act of God, they're something that human beings built, and we can take them
apart, we know how to do that. All that's missing is the political will. And for that, we turn to you, because this
task, eliminating these weapons, was going to require the involvement of every one of
us. There are people here today, who are great
leaders. Who spend all of their time, you know, working on their causes. I'm not like
that. I work as a doctor, that's who I am. I spend
forty hours a week taking care of patients; I spend a little bit of time working on this
issue. That's something all of you can do. And I hope you all will so that when you come
to take stock of your life, you will honestly be able to look at yourself and say, "I helped
to save the world." I can't promise you that's going to get you
into Heaven. But I can promise you, it's about the best thing you can say about your life.
Thank you. [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]

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