Nuclear disarmament and other existential threats: issues of our time

On March 2, David Harries spoke at Mount Allison about nuclear disarmament and the Canadian Pugwash Group (CPG). After outlining the purpose of the Group, a team of scholars that addresses existential threats to humanity, CPG Chair Harries presented the progress that has been made worldwide on nuclear disarmament. While progress being made is evident, Harries emphasized that there are many more pressing issues today that require our attention, and many of these problems are connected.

Harries served as a NATO officer in the Canadian military for several decades. He was also a UN peacekeeper and a professor of engineering, humanitarian aid and post-conflict/post-disaster response and recovery at the Royal Military College of Canada. He has also been an active member in the mission for nuclear disarmament through his extensive involvement with the CPG.

Harries asked the audience what they believed to be the most pressing issue of our time. Responses varied from climate change and antibiotic resistance to the use of computer viruses as weapons and North Korea. According to Harries, climate change is the most pressing problem and the disagreements surrounding this issue are part of what make it so important. Climate change deniers argue that the climate has always been changing, so we should not consider it an urgent issue, but Harries said that climate change is affecting us all and will continue to do so with increasing severity if we do not take action.

Referring to the sheer number of social problems that the world is facing today, Harries said that we need to be doing a lot more. He said that the starting point for solving social problems is coming together, discussing them and creating teams to work on them.

One of the ways to decide which issues to tackle first, according to Harries, is by ranking risk. In 2017 alone, there have been over 30 news articles ranking what are referred to as “existential risks.” Some have argued that the India-Pakistan conflict is the most pressing, while others cite the Trump administration.

On the topic of how students can be actively involved in tackling social issues, Harries said that “universities are a good place to start to get together, not necessarily in a formal setting, but to get together and to talk about these things.” Using the internet and contacting government departments are just some of the ways to learn more about existing problems, and to let people know that you are interested in helping, organizing and advocating for change. Harries also said that some Mt. A student groups, such as Divest MTA, are already doing a good job of this. This group’s actions are an example of how students can effectively act on social justice issues.

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