Hiroshima, Kyoto, and the Bombs of Climate Change

By Bill McKibben

April 27, 2018

It’s not as if we have solved the nuclear issue, but at least we understand that it is a crisis. The entire act of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, depends on the collective understanding that these weapons are uniquely, intolerably awful. Even Donald Trump dimly groks that denuclearization is good. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is filled with the texts of treaties that have brought the number of warheads slowly, steadily down; we could see that mushroom cloud and understand its danger in our gut. With climate change, it’s different. The explosion of a billion pistons inside a billion cylinders every minute of every day just doesn’t induce the same tremble. True, Trump is alone among world leaders in dismissing global warming, but most of his peers might as well agree: they’ve done very little of what’s required even to begin addressing this issue. As a result, the explosions go off constantly. Scientists estimate that, each day, our added emissions trap the heat equivalent of four hundred thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs, which is why the Arctic has half as much ice as it did in the nineteen-eighties, why the great ocean currents have begun to slow, why we see floods and storms and fires in such sad proportion. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only atomic bombs we ever dropped; climate bombsrain down daily, and the death toll mounts unstoppably.