If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Archive for July, 2009

Sally Henderson on saving African wildlife and her encounters with animals

Monday, July 27th, 2009


Sally Henderson (ABC.com.au)

Sally Henderson (ABC.com.au)

Sally Henderson is an Australian whose passion is conserving endangered African wildlife - particularly elephants. In 1990 she joined the elephant research project in Zimbabwe, which inspired her memoir Silent Footsteps, published by Pan Macmillan in 2007. She has traveled extensively throughout Africa, studying many aspects of conservation and a diverse array of African cultures. Henderson’s new book is Ivory Moon, a memoir set in Namibia (also published by Pan Macmillan). In this deeply moving interview, Henderson shares with Dr. Caldicott her many powerful experiences being around elephants, lions, leopards and other animals in Africa, as she worked to save them and learned to understand them.

Dr. Caldicott asks Henderson how she first became interested in visiting Africa, and Henderson recounts how her rewarding childhood experiences surrounded by Australian animals inspired her lifelong interest in wildlife conservation.

Henderson speaks about her many close-up encounters with African elephants, including the terrifying time when an elephant saved her life. She tells Dr. Caldicott about the many ways elephants communicate, sometimes telepathically, and their great intelligence and sensitivity.


Elephants as well as rhinos are now endangered. Henderson talks about the poaching of the rhino population for products used in Asia and elsewhere. Poachers kill many elephants, and Henderson has aided efforts to keep them in protected areas, and to educate Africans to save the elephants, at least until old age. Elephant populations have fallen drastically from their original millions to endangered levels today. Read the April 9 Scientific American article Are Elephant Populations Stable These Days?

Henderson vividly describes her experiences in Namibia, more of a pristine wilderness than other parts of Africa. Dr. Caldicott says that Namibia is a major source of uranium, used to make nuclear weapons, and diamonds.

Over the course of the program, Henderson also imparts her electrifying experiences with big African cats on several trips and longer stays. She provides many insights into wild feline behavior, including the surprising difference between the leopard and other cats such as lions.


Dr. Caldicott and Henderson also touch on the quality of life for poor Africans, and the hardships and disease they often face. Henderson lauds the work
Bill and Melissa Gates are doing through their foundation in the area of malaria prevention, on
a continent where the vast majority of people cannot afford anti-malarial medications because of the greed of pharmaceutical companies (who would rather market and profit from drugs for depression and low libido, available
to affluent people).

The hunting-and-killing mentality of sport hunters is another topic of this episode. Henderson and Dr. Caldicott agree about the peculiarity of hunters who boast about slaughtering wild animals. They concur that humans are the worst predators on the planet. Erich Fromm’s book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness inquires into why some men enjoy violence, including hunting animals.

After the formal conversation with Henderson ends, there is a three-minute music break, after which Dr. Caldicott comes back on the air to describe her experience attending a conference that included Robert Mugabe, the murderous president of Zimbabwe. During the dialogue with Henderson,
Dr. Caldicott had mentioned encountering Mugabe in the context of whether or not African leaders care about endangered animals.

For more information about saving African wildlife, visit the websites of Save the Elephants, World Wildlife Fund, The African Wildlife Foundation, Save the Rhino and Wildlife Direct. Also visit the web pages of PETA’s Save Wild Elephants campaign and actress Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Reserve, which saves big cats which were abused as illegal exotic pets.

Read the articles African Safaris - Elephants Must Be Saved From Extinction, Extinction Crisis Emerges for World Mammals: One in Four Species at Serious Risk, Will Central Africa’s Forest Wildlife Be Eaten into Extinction?, Elephants Slaughtered to Feed Soldiers in Zimbabwe, Satellite’s-Eye View of an Africa Despoiled [35-image slide show], and The Saddest Show on Earth, about the terrible plight of elephants in circuses.

Ellen Augustine and Barry Hermanson on reducing U.S. military spending and reclaiming tax dollars for human needs

Monday, July 20th, 2009


U.S. Budget Priorities chart (from NotMyPriorities.org)

U.S. Budget Priorities chart (from NotMyPriorities.org)

Ellen Augustine and Barry Hermanson are California residents who have started a campaign to alert fellow citizens to the gross overspending of the US military budget. Their campaign, called Not My Priorities, centers on educating people through a simple pie chart about the discrepancy in spending on the Pentagon versus all other areas in the national budget.

Hermanson, who founded the campaign, was a Green Party candidate for Congress in California’s 12th Congressional District. Augustine also ran for the US Congress, and founded four non-profit organizations. This is an inspiring interview with two people who believe Americans can harness their democratic process, and really make a difference.

In Part 1 of this episode, Dr. Caldicott starts the interview with Augustine by remarking how the U.S. military consistently argues that huge defense budgets are necessary and justifiable because they create jobs. She asks Augustine how many jobs are really created in the military, versus how many jobs could be created in health care, education, renewable and alternative energy and other environmental sectors if spending priorities were allowed to change. Augustine presents striking figures that spending on these other sectors would created twice as many jobs.

Ellen Augustine

Ellen Augustine

Next, they look at the current U.S. defense budget, and those large “black areas” where more money is spent but not accounted for, and might be used for nuclear weapons research, “homeland security,” veterans affairs, and paying down national debt because of present or past wars. Augustine says that the U.S. public is brainwashed that security is only achieved by military spending. She points out how America spends more than all countries combined on weapons and the military. Read the June 9 article Worldwide military spending on weapons hits
record high

Augustine says the Not My Priorities campaign encourages citizens to distribute thousands of postcards showing the pie chart above to all members of Congress and the Senate. She describes the huge battles in Washington to allocate the one-third of tax dollars that are left over for social programs like education, housing, transit and health care, after two-thirds of tax revenues are handed over (usually with little debate) to the insatiable military.

Dr. Caldicott and Augustine converse about the hair-trigger alert launch status that U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons are still on, and the arms reductions promised by Presidents Obama and Medvedev. They also explore what percentage of the U.S. military budget is spent on nuclear weapons. Augustine refers to UN Development Program reports that stress the importance of universal access to education, basic health care, food and water. She says the money the U.S. spends annually on nuclear weapons - $40 billion - could more than cover such essential programs for everyone on Earth.

Augustine describes the 700 to 1,000 U.S. military bases around the world, the strong opposition to those bases in most countries, and how expensive they are to maintain. See Mother Jones magazine’s interactive 2008 map, Mission Creep: U.S. Military Presence Worldwide. Also see this map of U.S. domestic military bases and this map of U.S. overseas bases (click on the highlighted state or country to see which bases are there).

Augustine mentions a report released in April this year, Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex For Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World, which recommends the U.S. and Russia first reduce their nuclear arsenals to 500 weapons each, what Augustine calls a “moral declaration” to lead by example on the road to global disarmament. Dr. Caldicott points out how fewer than 1,000 nuclear bombs exploding could bring about nuclear winter, making total and rapid disarmament between the nuclear superpowers extremely important. Listen to Dr. Caldicott’s interview with Professor Alan Robock one year ago for more information or nuclear winter and climate change.

Augustine sums up by saying that “when the public has focused on a new vision, the power of the people has prevailed.” She and Dr. Caldicott agree that now, with economics such a preoccupation, the U.S. public should want to support cutting the military budget when so many other problems need to be fixed, from poverty to the environment.

Barry Hermanson

Barry Hermanson

In Part 2, Dr. Caldicott begins her interview with Barry Hermanson by asking him to describe the pie chart in detail (see above – a more recent version of the pie chart with updated dollar figures is shown on the postcards Not My Priorities will mail anyone who is interested). Hermanson says the public can influence politicians to oppose war and weapons funding, and cites the evolution of Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.
Dr. Caldicott ponders what would happen if most residents of California, a major weapons-production state, were educated about spending priorities and became firmly committed to reducing the military budget. Given the state’s dire financial situation at present, freeing up a large portion of federal tax dollars from the military budget would provide enormous benefit to California, not to mention the other 49 states.

Dr. Caldicott says that a national movement to drastically cut the military budget should start in California, and strongly recommends listeners contact the Not My Priorities campaign to get postcards to sign and distribute to legislators. She reminds listeners that Pres. Obama said in a speech that he can’t function as a bold, visionary leader unless he has the people behind him. Hermanson says that Congress, as well as Obama, must hear from more citizens about cutting the military budget. He notes that Congresswoman (and now Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi called for enlarging the Army and Navy at the end of 2007, and like many Democrats is often pro-war. Dr. Caldicott notes how Washington Democrats are frequently more hawkish and warmongering than Republicans so they can maneuver to raise money for social programs.

Six firms now produce most of the weapons in the U.S., Hermanson says. See the list, Top 25 Publicly Traded Companies Receiving Prime Contract Awards from the U.S. Department of Defense, Fiscal Year 2008. Weapons firms are focused on profit and expanding global arms sales. Read the June 13 article Weapons Makers Look Overseas as Pentagon Scales Back.

For more information, read Postcards from the Outraged: Ellen Augustine on reslicing the American pie and Green Party nominee [Hermanson] rallies to reduce military spending. Also read Jeremy Scahill’s April 9 article Billions More in War Spending: How Many Democrats Will Stand Up Against Obama’s Bloated Military Budget? and see the Global Issues web page about world military spending.

Prof. Lawrence Wittner on the history of the nuclear disarmament movement, and how to engage today’s public in achieving nuclear abolition

Monday, July 13th, 2009


1958 British antinuclear march (first appearance of the peace symbol) (BBC)

1958 British antinuclear march (first appearance of the peace symbol) (BBC)

This week’s guest is Lawrence Wittner, Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. Prof. Wittner is an award-winning American historian who has written extensively on peace movements and foreign policy. He is the author of seven books, including his most recent: Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, published by Stanford University Press in 2009. He also wrote an earlier trilogy of books Toward Nuclear Abolition: The Struggle Against The Bomb upon which Confronting the Bomb is based. Prof. Wittner is a recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Program on Global Security and Sustainability Research Writing grant.

On this week’s program, Dr. Caldicott first asks Prof. Wittner how he came to write on the topic of the peace movement, and he says that disarmament activism has been the “greatest mass social movement of modern times.” He lays out in detail the three major upsurges of antinuclear activism around the world since the late 1940’s.

Prof. Lawrence Wittner

Prof. Lawrence Wittner

Prof. Wittner describes his findings about government response to antinuclear activism in various countries and at various points in the last 60 years. In many cases, the peace movement helped change government policies and was appreciated by politicians such as President John F. Kennedy. Prof. Wittner enunciates his point of view about whether or not peace activism has prevented nuclear war.

Dr. Caldicott asks about the mindset of those who continue to favor retaining, building or using nuclear weapons. Dr. Caldicott and Prof. Wittner explore spying and surveillance of peace groups, and
she describes her own experiences as a prominent leader of the antinuclear movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Dr. Caldicott asks Wittner if the antinuclear movement in the U.S. is approaching a resurgence. In the discussion, they talk about some of the ways the public can become more involved in supporting nuclear abolition efforts, and they mention groups like Peace Action, Women’s Action for New Directions (formerly Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament) (WAND), Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom whose project Reaching Critical Will is all about nuclear disarmament. The groups Global Zero, Beyond Nuclear and The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation are also very actively working toward total disarmament.

Prof. Wittner says the 2010 conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Obama has promised to reinvigorate, is a crucial event, and he says the U.S. Senate needs to feel pressure to pass the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Read Prof. Wittner’s articles How the Peace Movement Can Win, What the Peace Movement Can Learn from the NRA, and Have Peace Activists Ever Stopped a War?

Dr. Caldicott says that churches have a “moral obligation” to make eliminating all nuclear weapons a high priority. She is surprised that the mainstream media chose to ignore Prof. Wittner’s earlier books on the disarmament movement, which she says document crucial struggles to save all life on Earth. She encourages all listeners to buy a copy of Confronting the Bomb.

Dave Sweeney on the hazards of uranium mining and the push for nuclear power in Australia

Monday, July 6th, 2009

1998 Australian protest at Jabiluka (Reuters image)

1998 Australian protest at Jabiluka (Reuters image)


Dave Sweeney is one of the key voices in Australia educating people about the environmental and public health dangers of uranium mining. Sweeney works with the Australian Conservation Foundation, a 40-year-old organization that liases with the community, business and government to protect and sustain the Australian environment.

In this interview with Dr Caldicott, Sweeney talks about the plans that are underway for a massive expansion of the uranium industry in Australia, and the push to build the first Australian nuclear power plants.

The show starts off by examining the history of uranium mining in Australia, and the lack of remediation for the toxins that are released in processing uranium. Sweeney talks about Aboriginal myths and wisdom, their claims on the land used to mine uranium, and how Aboriginal homes have become missile and rocket testing ranges. Read Aboriginal cancer doubles near uranium mine.

Dave Sweeney

Dave Sweeney

Promoters of uranium mining, Sweeney notes, are saying that Australia could become the “Saudi Arabia of the Nuclear Age.” Sweeney works with activist groups to teach Australians that uranium mining is far more dangerous than extracting any other mineral. He and Dr. Caldicott delve deeply into the lack of concern by media and politicians about the horrific health and environmental consequences of such a deadly material, which is used to make “the worst weapons in the world.” Sweeney says there is much “institutional denial” and a “sanitized view” about uranium as well as nuclear power.

The program looks at the proposal to build the world’s largest mine, Roxby Downs, to mine uranium and triple exports. Several groups have been working to block this dam and the destruction it would create, including the Australian Conservation Foundation, Roxstop, and Friends of the Earth Australia. Dr. Caldicott mentions the enormous electricity usage and CO2 emissions such a mine would necessitate.

Subsequent to the recording of this show, Australia approved the nation’s fourth uranium mine, a decision supported by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Read the July 15 article Garrett approves new uranium mine and the
July 14 article Rudd defends uranium mine decision, both of which quote Dr. Caldicott.

There is enormous potential to use only green and renewable energy in Australia, with the country’s vast solar, wind, geothermal and other reserves. Read Australia: the Saudi Arabia of solar? Yet today, Australia is still locked into a “quarry economy.” Australia is a major coal exporter, and coal and uranium profits are enormous.

Dr. Caldicott asks Sweeney about the railway line built between Adelaide and Darwin to transport uranium from the south to the north coast of Australia. She has him outline the purpose of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which former president George W. Bush strongly supported. Read more about the hazards of GNEP here. Sweeney describes the Australian Nuclear-Free Alliance, and explains how Australia could become nuclear-free like New Zealand.

In closing, Dr. Caldicott says that “either money will determine the fate of the Earth, or morality.” Tune in to realize just how critical uranium mining is in perpetuating the nuclear dangers that continue to haunt the planet.