A New Generation of Activists Count Down to Zero

Reza Aslan, Lawrence Bender, Dr. Bob Dodge, Joe Cirincione, and Lucy Walker at ArcLight Hollywood July 30

PSR-LA and the Ploughshares Fund co-hosted the opening night screening of “Countdown to Zero” at the ArcLight Hollywood on Friday, July 30. The sold-out theatre included a diverse audience ranging from longtime PSR members to Angelinos with a piqued interest in how the producers of the Academy-Award winning “An Inconvenient Truth” would take on the issue of nuclear weapons.

After a brief welcome by PSR-LA Associate Director Denise Duffield and Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione, the film began with images of rolling black smoke moving eerily in reverse motion until the smoke recreates its source, a house that had been destroyed in a nuclear weapons test. The imagery conjures a phrase oft used in nuclear weapons discussions – “will we ever be able to put the genie back in the bottle?” The task seems daunting at best, especially as the film vividly portrays the ever increasing threat of nuclear terrorism and the risks of an accidental nuclear war or detonation, sober interviews with security experts and world leaders, and charming but woefully uninformed reactions from citizens throughout the world. Ultimately, however, a strong and compelling case is built for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. If a nuclear catastrophe is to be avoided, zero is the only solution. As physicist Frank von Hippel reaffirms: “If the probability isn’t zero, it will happen.”

Dr. Farideh Kioumehr, Denise Duffield, Lucy Walker, Ana Mascarenas, Martha Dina Arguello

A discussion followed the film featuring director Lucy Walker, producer Lawrence Bender, Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione, and PSR-LA Board Member Dr. Bob Dodge, moderated by Ploughshares Fund Board Member Reza Aslan. Drawn into the inevitable comparison between “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Countdown to Zero,” Bender explained that while some have asserted there was already a strong environmental movement when “An Inconvenient Truth” debuted in 2005 (stronger, ostensibly, than the anti-nuclear movement,) the environmental movement was actually at a critical cross-roads at the time. A widely discussed essay from 2005, “The Death of Environmentalism” by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, even charged that environmentalists’ complacency and lack of ingenuity prevented them from adequately addressing contemporary environmental issues, especially climate change.

“An Inconvenient Truth” therefore had the task of mobilizing both environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike. Five years later, most agree the film both helped activists better define the climate change problem and solutions as well as bring a much larger public awareness to the issue. PSR-LA and thousands of similar groups hope “Countdown to Zero” will do the same for nuclear weapons.

Director Lucy Walker noted that one group who palpably grasped the full weight of nuclear weapons were the world leaders she interviewed – former President Jimmy Carter, Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev – all of whom appeared deeply and personally affected in manner that belied their comprehension of the critical threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity and world.

PSR-LA Board member Bob Dodge detailed the health effects of event a small nuclear detonation, such as the one that the Department of Homeland Security and LA County agencies had prepared for days early. On July 28, “Operation Golden Phoenix” simulated emergency response and management following the detonation of a 10 kiloton improvised nuclear device in Los Angeles. “Such an explosion would result in 130,000 blast-related injuries, 122,000 burn injuries, 66,000 blast and burn injuries, 49,000 severe burn injuries requiring extensive hospitalization and 23,000 injuries to the head, thorax, abdomen and extremities,” said Dr. Dodge. “These tremendous numbers would be impossible to care for in the already stressed medical facilities of L.A. County which has only 13 trauma care centers with 7,500 beds. In the entire U.S. there are only 1500 burn beds with 300 – 500 available on any given day.”

PSR-LA organized a performance on July 28 to help promote Countdown to Zero

Dr. Dodge also related this information during Operation Golden Phoenix to a crowd at Hollywood and Highland after a performance organized by PSR-LA. The event was an attention-getting way to promote awareness of the nuclear threat and the film.

Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione, featured prominently in the film, urged audience members to get involved, to sign the petition in support of ratifying the START treaty, to talk to friends and neighbors about nuclear weapons and urge them to see the film. He asked that people give what they have – be it time, money, or talent – to groups like PSR-LA who are working every day for a nuclear weapons free world.

“Countdown to Zero” continues to expand nationwide – click here to find and purchase tickets for a screening near you.

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