We’re survivors, you and I…

…We will be defined not by the lives we led until the 11th of September, but by the lives we will lead from now on.
—Bill Moyers

I come across this Bill Moyers quote from time to time. When I did again today, l thought to include it here, along with the rest of the keynote address Bill Moyers delivered for the Environmental Grantmakers Association in Brainerd, MN. Easier for me to keep track of this way! Hope y’all enjoy it, too!

Keynote address, continued:
Before the 11th of September, the nuclear power industry was salivating at the prospect of the government giving it limited liability for the risks of the meltdown or other nuclear accident. We were told by Vice President Cheney that nuclear power was a “safe technology” that could help alleviate energy shortages and not contribute to greenhouse gases.

But when Dick Cheney invited the energy companies and their lobbyists to write his energy plan, he didn’t reckon on terrorism or the advice of Harvey Wassermann.
Nuclear Vulnerability
Harvey Wassermann has spent years studying these issues and writing about America’s experience with atomic radiation. He tells us that one or both planes that crashed into the World Trade Center could easily have obliterated the two atomic reactors now operating at Indian Point, about 40 miles up the Hudson River. Regulations put out by the nuclear regulatory commission regarding plant safety don’t address that sort of event, and neither plant was designed to withstand such crashes.

Until now, Harvey Wassermann’s scenario was unthinkable. Had one or both of those jets hit one or both of the operating reactors at Indian Point, the ensuing cloud of radiation would have dwarfed the ones at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl. At the very least, the massive impact and hellish jet fuel fire would destroy the human ability to control the plants’ functions. Vital cooling systems, back-up power generators, and communications networks would crumble. The assault would not require a large jet. The safety systems are extremely complex and virtually indefensible. One or more could be wiped out with a wide range of easily-deployed small aircraft, ground-based weapons, truck bombs, or even chemical/biological assaults aimed at the operating work force.

Dozens of US reactors have repeatedly failed even modest security tests over the years. And even heightened wartime standards cannot guarantee protection of the vast, supremely sensitive controls required for reactor safety. Without continuous monitoring and guaranteed water flow, the thousands of tons of radioactive rods in the cores and the thousands more stored in those fragile pools would rapidly melt into super-hot radioactive balls of lava that would burn into the ground and the water table and, ultimately, the Hudson. Striking water, they would blast gigantic billows of horribly radioactive steam into the atmosphere. The radioactive clouds would then enshroud New York, New Jersey, and New England, and carry deep into the Atlantic and up into Canada and across to Europe and around the globe again and again.

The immediate damage would render thousands of the world’s most populous and expensive square miles permanently uninhabitable. All five boroughs of New York City would be an apocalyptic wasteland. All real estate and economic value would be poisonously radioactive throughout the entire region. Who knows how many people would die?

As at Three Mile Island, where thousands of farm and wild animals died in heaps, and as at Chernobyl, where soil, water, and plant life have been hopelessly irradiated, natural ecosystems on which human and all other life depends would be permanently and irrevocably destroyed; spiritually, psychologically, financially, ecologically, our nation would never recover.

This is what we missed by a mere forty miles near New York City on September 11th. And remember — there are 103 of these potential bombs of the apocalypse now operating in the United States: one hundred and three.

I know you see the magnitude of the challenge. I know you see what we’re up against. I know you get it — the work that we must do. It’s why you mustn’t lose heart.

Your adversaries will call you unpatriotic for speaking the truth when conformity reigns.

Ideologues will smear you for challenging the official view of reality.

Mainstream media will ignore you, and those gasbags on cable TV and the radio talk shows will ridicule and vilify you.

But I urge you to hold to these words: “In the course of fighting the present fire, we must not abandon our efforts to create fire-resistant structures of the future.” Those words were written by my friend Randy Kehler more than ten years ago, as America geared up to fight the Gulf War. They ring as true today.

Those fire-resistant structures must include an electoral system that is no longer dominated by big money, where the voices and problems of average people are attended on a fair and equal basis. They must include an energy system that is more sustainable, and less dangerous. And they must include a media that takes its responsibility to inform us as seriously as its interest in entertaining us.

My own personal response to Osama bin Laden is not grand, or rousing, or dramatic. All I know to do is to keep doing as best I can the craft that has been my calling now for most of my adult life. My colleagues and I have rededicated ourselves to the production of several environmental reports that were in progress before September 11.

As a result of our two specials this year — ”Trade Secrets” and ”Earth on Edge” — PBS is asking all of public television’s production teams to focus on the environment for two weeks around Earth Day next April. Our documentaries will anchor that endeavor. One will report on how an obscure provision in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) can turn the rule of law upside down and undermine a community’s health and environment. Our four-part series on ”America’s First River” looks at how the Hudson River shaped America’s conservation movement a century ago and, more recently, the modern environmental movement.

We’re producing another documentary on the search for alternative energy sources, another on children and the environment — the questions scientists, researchers, and pediatricians are asking about children’s vulnerability to hazards in the environment — and we are also making a stab at updating the health of the global environment that we launched last June with ”Earth on Edge.”

What does Osama bin Laden have to do with these? He has given me not one but five thousand and more reasons for journalism to signify on issues that matter. I began this talk with the names of some of them — the victims who died on the 11th of September. I did so because I never want to forget the humanity lost in the horror.

I never want to forget the email Forrester Church told me about — sent by a doomed employee in the World Trade Center who, just before his life was over, wrote: “Thank you for being such a great friend.”

I never want to forget the man and woman holding hands as they leap together to their death.

I never want to forget those firemen who just kept going up. They just kept going up.

And I never want to forget what Forrester said of this disaster — that the very worst of which human beings are capable can bring out the very best.

I’ve learned a few things in my 67 years. One thing I’ve learned is that the Kingdom of the Human Heart is large. In addition to hate, it contains courage. In response to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, my parents’ generation waged and won a great war, then came home to establish a more prosperous and just America. I inherited the benefits of their courage. So did you. The ordeal was great, but prevail they did. We will, too, if we rise to the spiritual and moral challenge of survival.

Michael Berenbaum has defined that challenge for me. As President of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, he worked with people who escaped the Holocaust. Here’s what he says:
The question is what to do with the very fact of survival. Over time survivors will be able to answer that question not by a statement about the past but by what they do with the future.

Because they have faced death, many will have learned what is more important: Life itself — love, family, community. The simple things we have all taken for granted will bear witness to that reality.

The survivors will not be defined by the lives they have led until now, but by the lives that they will lead from now on. For the experience of near death to have ultimate meaning, it must take shape in how one rebuilds from the ashes. Such for the individual; so, too, for the nation.
We’re survivors, you and I. We will be defined not by the lives we led until the 11th of September, but by the lives we will lead from now on. So go home — make the best grants you’ve ever made. And the biggest — we have too little time to pinch pennies.

Back the committed and courageous people in the field — and back them with media to spread their message. Stick your own neck out. Let your work be charged with passion, and your life with a sense of mission. For when all is said and done, the most important grant you’ll ever make is the gift of yourself, to the work at hand.

Explore posts in the same categories: Democracy, Nuclear nonproliferation, Progressive

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