On a Trajectory Towards Self-Annihilation: An Interview With Dr Helen Caldicott

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Self Annihilation

Russian president Vladimir Putin currently has his people developing two so-called “Doomsday” planes that would allow him and other top leaders to fly to safety in the event of a nuclear conflict, whilst maintaining contact with the rest of the nation’s armed forces.

These days, most people don’t think about the possibility of nuclear war. Despite the US, Russia and other nations continuing to stockpile large numbers of nuclear weapons, the threat of such a conflict seems to hearken back to the 1980s.

Indeed, Putin’s new planes are set to replace similar models from that decade.

However, the Arms Control Association estimated last August that Russia had 6,375 nuclear warheads, whilst the US had 5,800. China had 320. France was holding 290, whilst the UK had 215.

Uneasy bedfellows India and Pakistan had 150 and 160 respectively. Whilst Israel was said to have 90 nuclear warheads and North Korea around 30 to 40.

And as long-term antinuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott has just warned in an article in the Independent Australia, even though its back of mind nowadays, the threat of nuclear annihilation is very real and ever present.

Climate catastrophe

Renowned Australian physician, author and social commentator, Dr Caldicott began speaking out about the hazards of radiation in the early 1970s. She led the campaign that brought an end to French nuclear testing in the Pacific. And she headed up another on the dangers of uranium mining.

In her latest article, the doctor warns that it’s not only nuclear warfare that’s a looming threat to our entire existence, as she also points to the issue of climate change, which is leading to ever more extreme weather events around the planet.

“Little did people know”, Dr Caldicott explains, that when they commenced utilising the power of fossil fuels a few centuries ago, that it would lead to a situation where the biosphere is threatened with extinction.

Yet, despite the most obvious evidence that we are endangered by changing climate from the 2019-20 bushfire season, we have a political leadership in this country that continues to invest in further fossil fuel expansion to the detriment of the entire planet and all future generations.

Doomsday awaits

As Dr Caldicott advises, she’s not the only one warning of the rising potential for self-destruction. Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been running the Doomsday Clock, which is a gauge on how close a human-caused global catastrophe is.

And this year, the clock has been set to 100 seconds to midnight – the closest it has ever been.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Dr Caldicott about why humanity is prone to pursue its own self-destruction, the fact that the climate change goals that governments have set are no longer obtainable and how the rise of women could be the cure to all of this.

Dr Helen Caldicott
Dr Helen Caldicott

Firstly, in a recent article you warned that despite all its wisdom, the human race is set on killing itself.

As you well know, the understanding that humans are facing such a future has been around for at least half a century now.

Dr Caldicott, what’s fuelling this self-destructive impulse?

It’s all the testosterone. Men can’t help themselves but be in competition with each other. They have always fought and killed each other, and women. They like war. Their scientific mind has been more destructive than constructive on the whole.

Now, they’re using AI with nuclear weapons, which Stephen Hawking said would almost certainly mean a nuclear war.

The other thing is money and greed. The capitalist system doesn’t work.

I look at the business pages every day in the Herald. It’s all about firms overtaking other firms. It’s all about money and the stock market. It’s nothing about principles or morality. Much of it has to do with fossil fuels, of course.

Then there are the nuclear psychopaths who can’t give up the thought of nuclear power, which won’t solve a thing. They don’t understand medicine and science to a degree.

So, we’re in a very serious position.

There was an interesting experiment done in a lab in San Francisco. A woman was investigating hormones.

When there was an altercation in the lab, the men would go into their rooms and sulk, and the next morning the women would come in, clean the benches, make the coffee and settle things down.

So, she checked the hormones. And in the males the testosterone went sky high, while, in the females, a hormone called oxytocin was released.

Oxytocin is liberated in a woman when they have a baby and breastfeed. It’s the most nurturing hormone.

If you give it to men via nasal aerosol it calms them down. When men have cirrhosis of the liver, they’re unable to break down female hormones, so they become quite soft and nurturing.

So, speaking as a physician, oxytocin could be the cure for the human race.

You’ve been campaigning against the nuclear industry since the 1970s.

I led the movement in Australia against French nuclear testing. I also led the movement against uranium mining with the unions. So, yes, I started a long time ago.

Your last book, 2017’s Sleeping Walking to Armageddon continues to deal with this subject. However, a lot of people today view the threat of a nuclear war as something that was an issue of the past.

Why is nuclear annihilation still of concern?

We’re closer to nuclear war than we have ever been. If you read the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which was started in Einstein’s era, they have the Doomsday Clock, which is moved every year in terms of how far we are from a nuclear war.

Now, it’s closer than it’s ever been. It’s 100 seconds to midnight.

However, the mainstream media is not attending to this, and that’s the only way you can educate people. As Jefferson said, “an informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion”, which is my experience.

We have a totally uninformed public, even though the public responds to education and information.

In the 1980s, I was all over the media in America – on television, the whole thing – and 80 percent of people became opposed to the threat of nuclear war and nuclear weapons.

So, it’s education that’s lacking. The only way you can educate the public now is through the media. Although, the media are not interested in doing that. They’re interested in profit.

The ABC is being dumbed down too. So, it’s very serious.

Two of Dr Caldicott’s books
Two of Dr Caldicott’s books

As well as nuclear issues, you’ve long raised the problem of climate change. In your understanding, just how far down the track are we with the climate emergency?

It’s irreversible. The stupid prime minister talks about 2050. That’s long gone. That’s over. No one is reducing the fossil fuel industry. It’s still being subsidised by governments.

Australia could be the renewable super hub of the world: blown by wind, sun everywhere and a lot of geothermal energy in South Australia. But instead of doing that the government is not investing in any of it.

It would provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. We would lead the world to a renewable energy future.

As you’ve just hinted, the Morrison government has continued to take a denialist stance towards climate, even after the majority of the other nations taking a similar approach have changed their tune.

Yes. Because they’re funded by fossil fuel companies. That’s why. They’ve got no morality at all.

Another area of concern is the government’s mounting war with China rhetoric. Indeed, this has only picked up since Peter Dutton took on the war portfolio.

What are your thoughts on the potential for a war with China?

Dutton is a sociopath. He’s been so cruel to refugees. He’s totally inappropriate to be minister of defence.

China is our biggest trading partner. What we should be doing – and what America should be doing – is making friends with everyone around the world.

No more war. No more wargames, which the Americans love. There is a big wargame going on up in Queensland at the moment.

Talisman Sabre.

Yes. I went up there some years ago to protest it.

The reason for all this animosity is the huge military industrial complex in America, where over a trillion dollars a year is spent on weapons, murder and killing.

The firms are so clever. They’ve now moved into Canberra. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman: they’re all over Canberra.

They have been clever and put factories in every congressional district in America. So, when there’s a vote for weapons, it always gets through because of jobs.

The whole system is not antiquated: it is evil. And we’re joining it, because our politicians are stupid anyway: most of them are not scientifically or medically literate.

They’re real estate agents and such, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But science has moved so far within our lifetime that people have to know what science is doing to understand the ramifications of it.

You’ve been campaigning for change since the 1970s. However, for the most part, the human race seems to be on the same trajectory as when you commenced.

It’s gotten worse.

Is this disheartening? How do you keep going?

It’s hard. I don’t campaign anymore as I’m almost 83. I’m very much aware of what’s happening. And I feel terrible about future generations.

I wrote a book titled If You Love This Planet about 12 years ago, which described global warming, chemical pollution – the whole thing. I’m sort of egocentric and thought everyone would read it and it would change things. Of course, that didn’t happen.

I’d love to address a joint session of congress or parliament. I’d like to be prime minister.

The model for me is medicine. If we have a complicated patient, we bring in a neurologist, a pathologist and a cardiologist. We’d have a roundtable discussion and work out what’s best to do for the patient.

That’s what you should do when you’re prime minister: bring in all the experts and work out the best approach.

And lastly, Dr Caldicott, in your opinion, what is going to turn the tide?

If women rose up and took over, we could make a hell of a difference. But we’re subjugated – intrinsically subjugated – by the way we have been brought up.

But by God, do we need women to take over.

I know some women turn into Thatchers and the like and join the male ethos. But, on the whole, that could be incredibly powerful.

In the past, Margaret Mead explored societies run by women and they were very peaceful. And as I say oxytocin, might be the key. Of course, I’m way out on a limb. But what I’m saying makes a lot of sense psychologically and physiologically.

Images: “nuclear-bomb-explosion” by benben is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. “View of Sydney skyline during bushfires (October 17, 2013)” by Andrea Schaffer is licensed under CC BY 2.0.“bushfire” by bertknot is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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