Members get a snapshot view of new Long Now content with easy access to all their member benefits.
Published monthly, the member newsletter gives in-depth and behind the scenes updates on Long Now's projects.
Special updates on the 10,000 Year Clock project are posted on the members only Clock Blog.
Filmed on Tuesday September 21, 02010
Along with his tretralogy on nuclear weapons (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun, Arsenals of Folly, and The Twilight of the Bombs), Richard Rhodes is author of John James Audubon, Deadly Feasts (on mad cow disease), and a Donner Party novel, The Ungodly.
Pulitzer-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun, and Arsenals of Folly completes his tetralogy on nuclear weapons with his new book, The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons.
A single weapon profoundly shaped world history for most of a century. Its disappearance can have equally profound effects
The evening began with a short version of Isao Ishimoto's animation of all the world's atomic explosions in the period 1945 to 1998. The total is shocking to most people---2,053. Rhodes commented that seeing the bomb tests on a world map over time shows how much they were a strange form of communication between nations. He also noted how the number of tests dropped from decades of intensity to near zero after 1993. In this century only North Korea has tested bombs, and those could be the last explosions.
Most Americans, he's found, think that we don't have nuclear weapons any more, and that may reflect a realistic perception that we no longer need them. But our government keeps looking for reasons to keep them, and maintaining the current much reduced arsenal still costs $50 billion a year.
How much did the Cold War cost everyone from 1948 to 1991, and how much of that was for nuclear weapons? The total cost has been estimated at $18.5 trillion, with $7.8 trillion for nuclear. At the peak the Soviet Union had 95,000 weapons and the US had 20 to 40,000. America's current seriously degraded infrastructure would cost about $2.2 trillion to fix---all the gas lines and water lines and schools and bridges. We spent that money on bombs we never intended to use---all of the Cold War players, major and minor, told Rhodes that everyone knew that the bombs must not and could not be used. Much of the nuclear expansion was for domestic consumption: one must appear "ahead," even though numbers past a couple dozen warheads were functionally meaningless.
Rhodes noted that people fear the blast and radiation effects of atomic bombs, but it's really the fires that are most destructive. The fireball ignites everything far beyond the blast effects. As a result, nuclear winter remains a threat. Former researchers of nuclear winter used sophisticated new climate models to assess what would happen if, say, there was an exchange of 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs (1.5 kilotons) between India and Pakistan. The smoke clouds would disrupt the weather long enough to collapse some agriculture, leading to starvation of as many as a billion people.
Serious efforts are underway to get the world's nuclear weapons down toward zero. All weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) is being tallied and secured. Sophisticated, unrestrained inspection systems are gaining ever more access. In some cases, arsenals are being "virtualized"---nuclear capability substitutes for weapons stockpiles. India and Pakistan, for instance, have disassembled their nuclear weapons into widely separated parts that would take considerable time and deliberation to reassemble.
In the course of his research, Rhodes shifted from opposition to nuclear power for electricity to becoming a strong proponent. Among its benefits is offering a way for the thousands of warheads to be converted into something useful when diluted into large quantities of reactor fuel. Also the international fuel banking proposed for bringing proliferation-free nuclear power to developing nations can help enable more thorough inspections of all fissile material.
At dinner Rhodes reflected that nuclear weapons may come to be seen as a strange fetishistic behavior by nations at a certain period in history. They were insanely expensive and thoroughly useless. Their only function was to keep a bizarre form of score.--Stewart Brand
Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.
We would also like to recognize George Cowan (01920 - 02012) for being the first to sponsor this series.Would you like to be a featured Sponsor?
Seminars About Long-term Thinking is made possible through the generous support of The Long Now Membership and our Seminar Sponsors. We offer $5,000 and $15,000 annual Sponsorships, both of which entitle the sponsor and a guest to reserved seating at all Long Now seminars and special events. In addition, we invite $15,000 Sponsors to attend dinner with the speaker after each Seminar, and $5,000 Sponsors may choose to attend any four dinners during the sponsored year. For more information about donations and Seminar Sponsorship, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We are a public 501(c)(3) non-profit, and donations to us are always tax deductible.
The Long Now Foundation • Fostering Long-term Responsibility • est. 01996 Top of Page