The Marshall Islands show us why nuclear and climate justice go hand in hand
It has been nearly eight decades since nuclear weapons were used in war, but communities around the world still bear scars of the atomic bomb.
The Marshall Islands, a chain of coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawai’i, have long been dealing with the environmental, social, and human health effects of nuclear-weapons testing.
From 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. 23 of these tests were conducted at Bikini Atoll and 44 were conducted near Enewetak Atoll. The effects of these tests are still present in the environment and the bodies of the Marshallese today.
The Marshallese were displaced, many permanently, by the U.S. military in preparation for these tests. Today, many in the community in the Marshall Islands and in the Marshallese diaspora still struggle to meet basic needs, with relatively little help from the government that displaced them.
Organizations within the Marshallese community have long fought against this toxic legacy. The Marshallese Education Initiative, an Arkansas-based organization that serves the Marshallese diaspora by providing services and raising awareness of Marshallese history and culture, is a leader in this fight.
Today, the islands lie in an area of renewed strategic importance as U.S.-China saber-rattling grows louder. But the effects of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands are ongoing, and will be worsened by climate change.
On Runit Island in Enewetak Atoll, the Runit Dome stores nuclear waste from U.S. tests. But the dome has serious structural issues, and as global temperatures warm and seas rise, it will be flooded with more and more seawater, contaminating the ocean with radioactive waste at even higher levels.
Marshallese government officials and community advocates are consistently at the forefront of global efforts to address climate change. Today, Tina Stege, Climate Envoy for the Marshall Islands, leads the country’s efforts as the Chair of the High Ambition Coalition, an organization within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that centers the climate effects of rich nations’ activities on poorer nations. The Coalition was founded in response to former Marshallese Foreign Minister Tony deBrum’s call to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius during Paris Climate Accords talks.
Climate change and nuclear weapons are global existential threats locked in a vicious cycle of accelerating damage to the environment and human health, all the while locking in larger catastrophes down the road.
As movements we must join together to address these interlocking effects and rescue the future from the past and present.
Sign our petition, Nuclear Weapons Are An Intersectional Issue, and affirm that we must address these threats intersectionally and work together to abolish these weapons.