Do Global Warming Deniers Know Nuclear Weapons Exist?

On a recent episode of Last Week Tonight on HBO, host John Oliver dedicated a 15 minute segment to American apathy towards our aging nuclear weapons. Oliver said we spend more time worrying about whether we “accidentally hit Reply All on an office email” than we do worrying about “nuclear annihilation.”

And that segment got me thinking about how easily we could destroy life on Earth, even with the much reduced numbers of nuclear warheads that still exist in the world compared to the peak of the Cold War some 30 years ago. And the idea that human beings have the capability of destroying life on Earth then made me think about global warming. And then a simple thought crossed my mind:

You know how some global warming denialists say that man-made global warming cannot be real because human beings do not possess the capability to alter the global climate? To be clear, not all denialists say this, but a good number of them do, and they get prominent positions on TV and even in congress.

But here’s the thing, we have the capability with our nuclear arsenal of destroying life on Earth, and well, pretty much fucking up the climate in the process. I mean, things are going to be pretty hellish on this planet for quite some time if we set off every nuclear weapon in existence. Just about everything on this planet would be altered, and hardly anything would remain untouched, including the climate. Local weather would be majorly altered, and global climate patterns would be disrupted as well.

So, with this obvious acknowledgment, we know that human beings DO indeed possess the capability to alter the global climate. Therefore, why is it impossible for these denialists to believe that we can alter the climate via carbon emissions, only over a much longer period of time?

Ah, but there it is! That’s the key to this — time. Human beings are notoriously bad when it comes to understanding things on really long time scales. Its pretty easy for all of us to imagine what would happen to life on this planet if a nuclear-armed World War III were to take place. It would happen pretty damn fast. Maybe we still have a problem contemplating the destructive power of just one nuclear weapon, but I think we all know that the combined destructive power of just a fraction of the total nuclear weapons would make for a pretty fucking bad day for us all.

But when you move the timescale from seconds, minutes and hours, and replace it with years, decades and centuries, as is the case with man-made global warming, well, it becomes much easier to be a denialist. Any incremental climate change you may see in your lifetime can easily be rationalized as being caused by some natural occurrence. And so, it doesn’t matter if there is a mountain of scientific evidence that proves global warming is happening, and human beings are the cause, because for the denialist, they are still living on a planet that from their point-of-view looks pretty much the same as it did the day they were born.

But you know what? It will all be okay in the end. See, there’s probably a pretty good chance that a nuclear holocaust will lead to eventual cooling of the climate. So I wouldn’t sweat the man-made global warming, well, at least not mentally anyway.

John oliver hbo last week tonight

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Climate Change

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