Nuclear Anxiety and Climate Anxiety

David French compares the two:

Yesterday I read one of the sadder articles I’ve read in a long time. It’s in BuzzFeed, and it’s the personal story of a young woman who became a “birth striker.” That’s a person who chooses not to have children — as an act of personal autonomy, yes, but also as a statement of despair at the state and fate of the world.


There is now such a thing as “climate-change anxiety,” and as the Washington Post reported last month, it’s filtering into pop culture. A key subplot in one episode of the HBO series Big Little Lies featured a child suffering an actual panic attack during a classroom climate-change discussion. In another HBO show, Euphoria, a character justifies her drug use by claiming that “the world’s coming to an end, and I haven’t even graduated high school yet.”

I’m reminded of the nuclear fears that haunted my generation. I grew up during intense Cold War tensions. As a young nerd, I even tried to calculate whether our house was in the blast radius if the Soviets targeted the Bluegrass Army Depot, a nearby storage facility for chemical weapons. I remember watching The Day After when I was 14 years old, and the next morning it was all anyone talked about in my Kentucky public school.

One interesting thing about the cold war nuclear annihilation fears is how few people acted on them. It is often observed that many climate fanatics don’t practice the low-carbon lifestyles they preach, but they have the excuse of saying that their individual contribution won’t matter. During the cold war, your probability of survival would change significantly based on where you live or if you had a fallout shelter, but only a few nerds and survivalists thought about it, and even fewer acted on it. If a nuclear holocaust did happen, this lack of action would be an object of much study and debate, intensely personal for many of the survivors, much as there is study and debate about why the Hungarian Jews got on the trains to Auschwitz. The survivalists would have much greater status.

What if climate change got to a point where there was a significant probability a large city would be flooded in 30 years? With our current culture, preparedness would likely be high-status. But what if the culture is on an island where the city which might get flooded is the only significant city, the population of which was long used to sneering at the backward peoples in the hills? They might decide to believe in it yet not act on it. The market, especially as it concerns international investment, would.



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