Younger generations are proving to be vocal citizens and impacting American politics.
Through leading the March for Our Lives, and involvement in other movements like the Women’s March and myriad climate change groups, young people are making sure their voices are heard. The drivers for this increased activism are all around us. We can directly feel and see the effects of climate change through the increased intensity of hurricanes, hotter summers, and colder winters.
The Women’s March reflects the latest efforts to support equality, opportunity, and security for women. Gun violence is another all too tangible issue for a new generation of voters: a seemingly endless amount of shootings, campus lockdowns, and mandatory “active shooter drills” make the discussion of gun safety policies inescapable.
In the midst of these critical issues, nuclear weapons issues continue to permeate newspaper headlines but generally fail to reach the under-40 crowd. In fact, the silence on nuclear weapons issues among young Americans is deafening. If it continues, the lack of awareness and engagement will have significant policy implications.
There is no denying that nuclear weapons policy is complex and confusing. Some might even call it intimidating. It is not an easy topic for non-experts to engage on. But despite nuclear policy’s inaccessibility—and maybe even because of it—nuclear war remains a significant global threat, if not the most significant global threat.
Nuclear weapons and climate change are often hailed as the greatest threats to international security. But, while climate change has garnered attention and inspired significant domestic grassroots action, younger generations of voters remain largely unaware of the American nuclear arsenal and the billions of dollars spent maintaining it. Climate change is a serious issue that must be confronted, and a recent report highlighted devastating consequences before the end of the century. But only 100 15kt bombs—out of the current global stockpile of almost 15,000 nuclear weapons—need to detonate in order to create “Nuclear Winter” and make life on earth uninhabitable.
So, what can you(th) do to get engaged in this issue?
First, get educated.
Nuclear policy is taught as a relic of the Cold War and not as a modern policy issue if it is even taught at all in high school or universities. Thankfully, there are plenty of other places you can turn to for information about nuclear policies past, present and future. Online resources include live streams of public seminars and discussions offered at an array of think tanks; factsheets from various expert organizations; information about high school initiatives like the Nuclear Weapons 101 education project targeting Manhattan Project sites; and Girl Security, which educates young women interested in national security issues writ large. The bottom line is, you do not need to become a nuclear policy expert to be aware of or become passionate about nuclear policy issues.
Second, connect to other activist efforts.
Nuclear war, like climate change, could have devastating effects on the environment. Groups committed to protecting the globe—and the people on it—should join forces. Organizations such as Beyond the Bomb already have networks across the country to educate citizens and engage on legislation surrounding nuclear weapons. Local environmental groups are a testament to the fact that there is no need to be in D.C. to impact policy debates. Together, nuclear and environmental activists can shake up the nuclear policy status quo.
Third, start talking about this issue—and don’t stop.
There’s no doubt that young people can effect change, including on a problem as dangerous as nuclear war. It is time for Millennials and Generation Z to add their voices to this critical debate.
Ask your representatives what they are doing about nuclear risks. Ask them if they are working to preserve treaties and improve security. Ask your teachers and ask your parents what they think of these issues.
Ask Politicians Where They Stand
Just asking the question elevates the issue. Your elected officials won't know what's important to you unless you tell them.
It's okay to not have all of the answers.
There are lots of resources out there to help you navigate your way through the nuclear maze.
The U.S. government plans to spend $1.2 trillion in the next 30 years to cover the costs of replacing and upgrading its entire nuclear arsenal without proper consideration of what is necessary. This hefty price tag is going to cut into the budget for other things the military needs and affect contemporary missions that have nothing to do with nuclear weapons. And, consider the changes our country and planet could see if a small fraction of those dollars were reallocated to alleviate student debt or address climate change, health care, and gun control issues. Feeling inspired to get involved now?