T248. Werbos, Computers, and God

T248. Werbos, Computers, and God

Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 248
Panellists: Paul Werbos
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  17 May 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified:  6 June 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne

Synopsis: Paul Werbos’s dissertation 50 years ago is the basis for the “New AI.” He wavers between believing in Einstein and in David Deutsch’s formulas for the universe. 

Metta Spencer 

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today, I am really gonna have fun. I don’t know about you, because this may be hard work for a lot of people, including me. I just spent a good part of my weekend watching videos by a guy who is maybe one of the most interesting people I have ever met. And I hardly understood a word that he was saying, but I couldn’t stop watching those videos. They were so interesting. And so important. Because this is a man who thinks a lot about a lot of different things. Trouble is he’s a mathematician. I am most decidedly am not. I wish I were. But it means there are real problems in communicating and understanding him. Now, this is Paul Werbos. Where are you, Paul? Are you in Philadelphia? 

Paul Werbos  

Actually, I’m in Arlington, Virginia.

Metta Spencer  

Right. Got it.

Paul Werbos  

I’m in a house that George Washington used to own. 

Metta Spencer  

No kidding. Really?

Paul Werbos  

 Yeah. It’s a great neighborhood.

Metta Spencer  

Wow. That’s a story right there. Okay. Now, the thing is that he is a mathematician. He’s famous for something called backpropagation. What is it, Paul?

Paul Werbos  

Backpropagation. 

Metta Spencer  

Backpropagation, which I promise you if you read it, you wouldn’t understand a word. I did. I printed it out and looked at it and couldn’t understand it.

Paul Werbos  

There are people in Washington who think they know what artificial intelligence is. And it makes me laugh, because even these heads of government agencies talk about the new AI and they don’t know what it is. A lot of what it is an advanced neural network technology, doing things like what brains do. And what they do with neural nets is all based on an algorithm I developed 50 years ago. And people in the field know about it.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, I’ve seen that and that is now the basis for artificial intelligence, more or less, right now? 

Paul Werbos  

New AI. They call it the new AI.

Metta Spencer  

Alright. Well, I don’t think we can talk about that, because I really couldn’t keep up with you there. But what happened is, when we were doing this setup, we started talking about God. Oh, naturally, what else would you talk about when you’re trying to set up your computer? So anyway, Paul has been thinking about God. And so have I and we talked about whether God really does play dice with the universe. And I said: Well, if he doesn’t… I mean if he does, he’s not God, because God’s supposed to know everything and if you got dice going around that you don’t know what it’s going to do, then you can’t possibly be God. On the other hand, my opinion is, I sort of want to believe that I have something like free will. And if I have free will, then that means God’s not in charge of everything, or doesn’t know what I’m going to do or something. Therefore, I don’t want God to know and be completely all powerful and all knowing. Therefore, I’m a little bit inconsistent. And whereupon Paul said: Yea, I’ve solved that problem. I’ve been thinking about that a long time. And I have the answer. And just then I had to set this thing up to get you guys in on it. So, I promised him that we would finish this conversation and you can listen in, and then we’ll start a different conversation about the things that probably most people might know a little bit about or think about more, Like climate. Okay. Okay, Paul, set me straight. In your 50 years of thinking about this subject, how did you solve it?

Paul Werbos  

It took a long time for me to figure out how these pieces fit together. I would say from 1967 until a year ago, I was really upset by the contradictions I saw in what I knew and in my life. In 1967, I really believed in a hard-core realistic view of how the universe works. I even met some friends of Albert Einstein when I was taking courses in Princeton when I was in high school. And what I read about Einstein sounded totally nutty. But then these guys in Princeton set me straight and they explained to me how Einstein’s view of the universe really works. And he doesn’t believe their dice. He believes it’s all governed by a certain kind of equation. And I believe that until 1967. Until 1967, I used to think that my Druid Catholic mother was a little crazy, because she would talk to the plants. 

Metta Spencer  

Druid Mother? You had a Druid Mother? 

Paul Werbos  

She had dreams about the future. I said: That can’t be right. I just refuse to believe it. She would show it to me. She would tell me. I would refuse to believe it. And then in 1967, something happened to me. And at first, I thought: Am I going crazy? And the next thought is: I can’t excuse these experiences. And from 1967 until a year ago, it’s a contradiction. I believed in one thing in physics., but in real life things seemed to be weirder and weirder and it’s hard to make sense of them. It took a long time for me to figure out how to resolve these inconsistencies. But the dice in the universe is not the biggest thing that I worried about. That actually was never such a big problem. Because Albert Einstein had this feeling, of course, the laws of the universe must be fixed. Equations must tell you exactly what will happen next. And he said to his friend, John von Neumann at Princeton. John von Neumann is sort of my hero. I grew up…. my mother practically worshipped John von Neumann. He was a really interesting guy. Was your mother mathematician also?  He was a mathematician.

Metta Spencer  

No, was your mother a mathematician?

Paul Werbos  

She was proud she won the school prize in mathematics. But you know, in those days, it wasn’t so easy to be a mathematician if you were a woman.

Metta Spencer  

Okay.

Paul Werbos  

Some people say von Neumann was the greatest mathematician of the 20th century. When I grew up, everybody said that. But a lot of mathematicians were embarrassed by von Neumann. Because he wasn’t pure. He ran around trying to save the world like you. He ran around talking to people at the Department of Defense and telling them how they should change their strategies. And he even went out to Los Alamos. He was one of the people who created the atomic bomb. And he wrote basic books on how does quantum mechanics work? How does life work? How does the mind work? He invented the field of neural nets. He was an unbelievable guy. But a lot of pure mathematicians said he’s not pure. And he kind of played with all these dirty people. And so, they decided that a different guy called Hilbert… they now cite Hilbert as the top mathematician of the 20th century. 

Metta Spencer  

Hilbert? H-I-L-B-E-R-T?

Paul Werbos  

Yeah. And he did great stuff. I mean, that’s why they call him number one. But Hilbert was, let’s say the top pure mathematician. Von Neumann was proving lots of theorems, but he connected to the real world. So, I really love von Neumann. I’ve read so many books about him. He was just fascinating guy.

Metta Spencer  

Except, I’m not sure I would love him for working at Los Alamos.

Paul Werbos  

There were people who hated him a lot. And there are a lot of old stories about what happened in Los Alamos. I even met a guy who worked there himself and had old home movies that he showed me of what really happened in Los Alamos that you never heard of. Those were fun home movies to watch. But, coming back, von Neumann and Einstein were more or less friends. They respected each other. They had offices in the same building in Princeton, where they told me about this, they had mathematics teas there. So, this is a very familiar place. And in that building, you can see where Einstein and von Neumann talked to each other, and a few other important people. And when Einstein told von Neumann God does not play dice with the universe, von Neumann listened. He paid a lot of attention. But he wouldn’t make up his mind until there was real data. And von Neumann would say: There might be randomness in the universe, there might not be. Let’s find out empirically. Let’s build theories. Let’s test them against reality. Maybe you’re right, my friend Einstein, but maybe you’re not right. Let’s find out. Let’s do the math. Let’s do the experiments. Let’s find out.

Metta Spencer  

See, I can’t imagine what conceivable experiment you could do that would prove one way or the other.

Paul Werbos  

Yeah. And in fact, there’s a famous guy named Karl Popper who used to say: You can’t prove that a theory is true. Popper is very famous in science.

Metta Spencer  

Listen, not only is he very famous, but he was my teacher.

Paul Werbos  

Really? Wow!

Metta Spencer  

Well, I can elaborate that and make it sound much more than it was, but I was his student in Berkeley for one term. I used to go to his office and talk to him.

Paul Werbos  

So, we may both believe there is something like magic in real human life. This is the kind of thing that made me wonder, because I too, I wasn’t such a student, but I did audit one of his classes. And the minute he saw me, he asked me to address the class, because he knew I could talk about a subject that I knew about that he wanted the class to hear about. That was in the London School of Economics. 

Metta Spencer  

Really?

Paul Werbos  

Yeah. 

Metta Spencer  

You were at LSE? 

Paul Werbos  

For the master’s degree.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, I knew that and that puzzled me because I thought: How in the hell do you mix economics with optics? 

Paul Werbos  

Well, mathematics is the key to all of them.

Metta Spencer  

I believe you, but I cannot imagine it. But anyway, go on. 

Paul Werbos  

Actually, that’s important.

Metta Spencer  

Popper’s the most influential person, in my thinking, I would say. It’s like it was money in the bank. You know, the first class, I went to, the auditorium was full. The second-class session, it was half full. Then the third class it was finally like the first two rows. And of course, I stayed there. I can tell you a lot of stories about that course, it was wonderful. But the thing is that I realized why people dropped out is because it sounds so simple. He made it sound obvious and trivial and banal and, you know, like, anybody would understand this, it was plain. And, I mean, there wasn’t, you know, there wasn’t anything to argue about, it was so clear. But I had the feeling later, you know, it was like putting money in the bank every time in graduate school, that I would get into an intellectual problem that I couldn’t solve. I’d go to the bank and withdraw some from my Popper account, and that would solve it. 

Paul Werbos  

That’s a good way of putting it. 

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, he was so clear that it looked obvious, but of course it was obvious only when you saw the problem that was not obvious. 

Paul Werbos  

Yes. One of the reasons that I loved working for the old National Science Foundation is that you have got to have really close conversations with people in all different fields from all over the world. And that was a learning experience. But one thing I’ve learned is that even the most brilliant people on Earth screw up a few things. They become rigid and they get locked in a box. And more often than not, they could get out of the box if only they remembered something they thought was easy to understand back when they were in kindergarten or in a class like Popper’s. And when you say Popper said things that sounded simple, how many PhDs screw up because they forgot something simple? And when you go to the bank at the Popper account, you are remembering something simple. And I believe Popper said a lot of simple things that are very powerful if you would remember them at the right time. Because he’s not alone. People say that about Jesus, you know, he said some important things that people don’t always remember what he said.

Metta Spencer  

I never know what or how to use what he said. That’s another matter. 

Paul Werbos  

Yeah. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, well, I deflected you. I’m sorry. Get me onto Popper and I ruin the whole conversation. Okay, back to where you were straightening out your confusion.

Paul Werbos  

Okay, so in 1967, I thought I had nice mathematical theories about how the brain works and then this personal experience became confusing. And then everybody told me Einstein’s stuff didn’t work anymore because of quantum mechanics. And I read some of the quantum stuff. And just as Schrodinger thought it didn’t make a lot of sense, Einstein thought it didn’t make a lot of sense, and I thought it didn’t make a lot of sense. What I really wanted to do for my PhD, was figure out how to do what Einstein wanted to do. That is, come up with a mathematical explanation for why quantum mechanics works as a statistical description of a universe that’s really governed by Einstein rules at the bottom. And that’s a hard mathematical problem. When I was in graduate school, I said: I really want to do that, but it’s too hard. I can’t do it in 3 years. So, I’ll do something easy instead for my PhD thesis. So, for my PhD thesis, I decided okay, I’ll explain how the human brain works. I already know that from the work that I already did. And when I showed it to the Harvard faculty, they said: Well, that’s interesting, but this is too complicated. Take a piece of it. And we’ll give you a PhD for a piece of it. So, I gave them a piece of it that was 400 pages long. And right now, that is the source of what they call backpropagation and the new AI. The new AI is Grade 1 of 12 grades. The new AI is much bigger than anything these guys know.

Metta Spencer  

What have you done with the other pieces?

Paul Werbos  

Ah, well, the beauty of working at the National Science Foundation, I got to work with industry people, frontline people, who are ready to start applying advanced technologies that are beyond what other people were working on. And I found out a week ago, this ResearchGate place, says that the paper that’s most cited this week, was not the backpropagation, but a slightly newer paper: Artificial Intelligence from Neural Intelligence to Biological Intelligence. It was an SPIE paper, it’s up there, they say it was the highly cited one. And it reviews 20 areas of real-world application of more advanced neural technologies that they don’t teach you in school even now. So for example: Ford was a great place. There was a time when Ford was the number one industry place in the whole world, for using real brain-like AI to solve real problems. And they used it for controlling cars. 

Metta Spencer  

When was that?

Paul Werbos  

In 1998, Businessweek published an article where the President of Ford said we can meet the new clean air standards, which the other guys say are impossible. They think it’s impossible. But Ford has a better idea, he said, in Businessweek. And he said: We know how to solve idle control, fuel-air mixtures, and NOx emissions. We have a way to solve these problems by using a new kind of recurrent neural network. And I knew, I worked with the people at Ford, who did that. I talked to them many times every year for many, many years until they retired. But yeah, Ford was already using advanced recurrent neural networks to improve air quality at a time when computer scientists were saying neural networks will never do anything. There were textbooks on AI by the leaders of computer science – I could tell you the names, but it wouldn’t be polite – leading textbooks on AI by the leaders of computer science, which say neural nets will never do XYZ. And they were already doing it in Ford cars. And they even published papers, but they didn’t advertise so heavily what they were doing. But they published papers explaining how they use neural nets to solve air quality problems. And that was more than 20 years ago that they did it. 

Metta Spencer  

Well, then they quit? They’re not doing it anymore.

Paul Werbos  

Well, the 2 key guys have a problem that you and I have. They got older. And you know, as you get older things happen. And these guys retired, of course, they not only got older, they also had an income so they could do what they wanted to do. They are still around so far as I know, I sure hope they’re still around.

Metta Spencer  

I think you should go talk to them. 

Paul Werbos  

Sometimes I do. Sometimes they even come talk to me. 

Metta Spencer  

Really? Okay We got off track. Where did this happen? Now you had some experience. that clashed with something else in your belief system and you couldn’t make them jive? 

Paul Werbos  

 Yeah.

Metta Spencer  

 I don’t know whether you want to tell me what that experience was or whether it makes any difference? I’m fascinated. But still, the question is: last year, you got to come together?

Paul Werbos  

Yes. And to be honest, there are bits and pieces of it. Some pieces came earlier, some pieces came later. There are a whole lot of inconsistencies between spiritual life to where you can even use the word God and not feel you’re being crazy; and hardcore Einstein view of the universe. That’s a big distance to try to bridge that distance. And there are a lot of little bridges you have to build to reconcile these 2 different ways of thinking.

Metta Spencer  

Well hold on. I mean, I don’t think there’s any incompatibilities between Einstein and God.

Paul Werbos  

It depends on what you mean by the word. God. Okay? So, Einstein’s view the word God. I saw a book by Michio Kaku. A famous popular book, but there’s this popular writer called Michio Kaku. People say he’s a string theorist. 

Metta Spencer  

The Japanese guy? 

Paul Werbos  

Yes. Japanese-American. He was teaching at MIT. He gave a talk about this great project, which my older daughter did when she was at MIT. But yeah, Kaku gives a lot of talks and his book says what I think Einstein would have said about God, frankly, because I think you and I take the word God more seriously now than Einstein did back in those days. When I was young, I didn’t take it seriously. When I was young, before 1967, I would have said, plain and simple, I am an atheist. This is total nonsense. I know why it’s total nonsense. It’s all imaginary garbage. That’s what I would have said before 1967. 

Metta Spencer  

Alright. And then you had this experience, which you’re not telling me about, which is okay. 

Paul Werbos  

It would bore people. 

Metta Spencer  

Oh no, no, no. You don’t bore people with that. Whatever it was, I’m with you. I’m all ears. But nevertheless, that may not be appropriate for this. Because what I want to hear is how you got the pieces to come together. Because I can’t make mine come together. 

Paul Werbos  

So, Einstein and modern quantum people had a big argument. There was a famous debate between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. People still talk about the Einstein-Bohr debate. And they weren’t debating about God. They were debating about how the universe works. But if you asked Einstein about God, I think he’s what people call a deist. Thomas Jefferson is also said to be a deist. And what the deist would say was: Yes, there is a God. God created a universe and then he left it entirely. And if you know the whole history of the universe, you won’t find a trace of God anywhere in this universe for your purposes, it’s as if he’s not there. But the point is, he put it together, somebody must have put it together, and we’re living in it. But there’s no sign of God in any human experience after that. All he did was make the universe.

Metta Spencer  

Do you think that Einstein believed that all along?

Paul Werbos  

Well, all of us humans wonder. And Einstein was capable of wondering. So, I suppose he must have had times of doubting what he believed. But I think he pretty much did not doubt it much. 

Metta Spencer  

I don’t know. There are things I read about what he was saying. He talked about God quite a bit, you know? 

Paul Werbos  

He used the word. 

Metta Spencer  

Well, but they sounded pretty good to me. 

Paul Werbos  

Yeah. That building at Princeton. I got to visit it again in 2015. God, it was beautiful homecoming kind of thing to that building in Princeton, with a whole bunch of people.

Metta Spencer  

The Institute for Advanced Study. Is that the building? 

Paul Werbos  

 No. So, I’m sure Einstein went to at least 3 different buildings in Princeton. I may be confusing or combining 1 building with another. But this is the building where, for example, von Neumann had his office. Whether Einstein used his office there, I don’t know. And there was this other guy. God, help me, the name should be immediately at the top of my head. W. This is weird. Usually, the name is at the top of my head. But at any rate, one of their friends who was a nuclear physicist and work with them also had an office in that building. And when a group of us went to visit that building a while ago, in 2015, over the fireplace is inscribed Einstein’s words. Over the fireplace, inscribed in German, it says something like: Subtle is the Lord, but he is not malicious. Okay? It’s hard to understand, but it’s not impossible. And people interpret that to mean: Yes, the laws of physics are hard to understand, but it’s not impossible. And so he used the name the Lord. But if you look at what it really means, this is like Popper. If you try to understand a possible theory of physics, how do you evaluate it? And this is an aesthetic judgment. How do you evaluate it? It’s not like you expect miracles. You use the word God to describe what you believe about the universe. And Kaku even says in his new book: He believes pretty much the kind of thing Einstein believed about God. He’s got other beliefs, but God is pretty much what Einstein believed. 

Metta Spencer  

Wait, hold on. You said something. Popper said that in his new book, is that what you said? 

Paul Werbos  

No. Kaku. Michio Kaku. Kaku has this new book. Yeah. And in Michio Kaku’s book, I think he expresses the same views of God that Einstein had. 

Metta Spencer  

Einsten was supposedly closer to Spinoza than anybody else. I don’t know whether that helps resolve this. 

Paul Werbos  

I don’t know Spinoza as well as I know these other guys.

Metta Spencer  

Okay. What happened last year?

Paul Werbos  

Oh, so I even have this YouTube discussion that I posted recently, it goes into detail. There’s the Einstein point of view and there is the best modern, mainstream quantum point of view. And before last year, I basically said, I don’t know what to believe. I know that life is weird, that’s for sure. But the weirdness doesn’t fit.

Metta Spencer  

It does not fit the quantum way of doing it, huh? 

Paul Werbos  

So, Einstein’s concept of the universe seems to say we live in 1 universe with 3 space dimensions and 1 time dimension. And he might play with 1 or 2, but you know, really 3 in 1. Everything is 3 to 1. And then in modern quantum field theory, the best quantum field theory out there today. If anybody’s interested, if you go to YouTube and search on “Deutsch multiverse” there’s a great living physicist and engineer called David Deutsch. Alive at Oxford University, a fantastic person. He’s the guy who invented quantum computing.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, I know, because I watched that show all night.

Paul Werbos  

Great. So, you saw it. So, David Deutsch invented quantum computing and his theory of physics is that we live in something called a multiverse. And what that means is the Schrodinger cat is not the only creature that splits in half. So, here’s what he says about Schrodinger’s cat: Schrodinger made up this experiment, this imaginary thought experiment, to try to prove that Werner Heisenberg was stupid. He disagreed with Heisenberg. He said: Heisenberg, If your theory is true, we could do the following experiment. We put a cat in a closet or a small room. We take a gun, hook it up to a Geiger counter, point it at the cat with a timer. And it’s set up so there’s exactly a 50% probability – according to quantum mechanics – that the gun will fire and kill the cat. And the timer stops after an hour. According to Heisenberg, at the end of that hour, the cat is not alive or dead. According to Heisenberg’s theory, that cat is in what they call a mixed state. There are 2 copies of the cat. By building this experiment, you turn the cat into 2 cats. 1 is alive and 1 is dead. And it won’t make up its mind until you as a human being open the door and look at it. And by looking at you force it to be alive or dead. Schrodinger said: that’s what you predict Mr. Heisenberg and it’s crazy. I don’t believe it. So, what David Deutsch says is: He says, if you do that experiment, you can split the cat in half. And when you open the door, you split yourself in half. And there are 2 copies of you. And 1 of you sees a live cat and 1 of you sees a dead cat. The whole universe, the big cosmos, the multiverse has 2 copies of you and 1 copy of you seems to be in 1 place and another copy of you seems to be in a place with a dead cat. There are both places that exist in the larger universe, which he calls the multiverse. So you live in your universe and the other you lives in the other universe. I tend to think there are 2 copies of Donald Trump out there right now. And 1 of them actually was inaugurated as President and the other 1 is dead. But I think the President is kind of fading away because my theory of quantum mechanics is a little different. I think a copy can fade away with time. And I think the other Donald Trump is fading away. That is my opinion. But yeah, this is real stuff, this happens. 

Metta Spencer  

You know, I’m doing my best. 

Paul Werbos  

It’s a little weird, yeah?

Metta Spencer  

It’s not just sort of weird. I mean, where would you go beyond that? I mean, what could you possibly do if you accept – I presume you do accept that this is the way it really is – I don’t know how —

Paul Werbos  

There are 2 problems it raises. 1 is: What do you do? My wife would always ask that question. What do you do about this If it’s true? David Deutsch’s answer is you can use it to build better computers and you can. But the other question is: If you believe that Albert Einstein is true and there’s only 1 universe, how can there be 2 copies of you in 1 universe? That’s what was really bothering me. And it wasn’t until last year that I figured out that I really think I understand the answer to that, but it’s very tricky.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, can you do anything to help me with it? Because, you sure brought me to a funny place. 

Paul Werbos  

Well, should I talk about practical uses? Or should I talk about my logical contradictions?  Okay, well, let me start with the practical thing. Okay.  I put up like 3 YouTube videos this past month. And I’m not too good at organizing them. You can probably use it better than I can, because you know about these media in practice. I put them up and one of them was a discussion of a new quantum technology. The present quantum computing, that the US government is funding today is all based on this idea from David Deutsch. It is what he calls the quantum Turing machine. And he came up with that idea to prove that his idea of the universe can be put to work. So, when he talked about the multiverse, when he said: There are many copies of you, people would say, eh that’s some weird philosophers’ theory. So, what Deutsch did was he proved theorem saying: It’s not just a theory, if this theory of physics is true, it tells you how to build a new kind of computer, which in a way is a million times more powerful than those computers based on classical physics that you’re building now. You can build more powerful computers, if you take advantage of this multiverse. He said: what you do is that the cat is not the only thing that can be put in a mixed state. In fact, the cat is not the easiest one to put in a mixed state. You can take a computer chip and put the computer chip in a mixed state. And in fact, what if you have one computer chip, but actually, what if you have a million copies of that same computer chip in parallel universes in different states each doing different work? If you had one million computers working on one million different problems in parallel and then you combine the results, you get a computer which will do the work of one million computers in one. One million the work for the same physical object, if you know how to put the object in a quantum state. And when he started publishing papers proving that mathematically, a lot of people said that can’t be true. We can’t really do it. We can’t really build it. But then a computer scientists came along who said: Well, no, we could use this kind of computer. And then a guy at MIT came along and said; You know, I can build something like this. I can build a quantum superposition in a coffee cup. And there’s a guy in MIT named [Neil] Gershenfeld, who wrote a great paper in science that showed I can use quantum superposition the way David Deutsch said we can. We can use this. We can build more powerful computers in a coffee cup with molecules in a mixed state. And after that, there were people like NSA who said: Oh, my God, if people can build computers a million times as powerful – a trillion times as powerful as anything we have today – they could use these computers to crack our codes and break our communications. We better find out about this. And so for several years, they started investing something like a billion dollars a year trying to understand what can you do with a David Deutsch computer. And I was actually part of the interagency group that oversaw that kind of research. I got to see what they were doing at NSA and DOD and all these places. We funded some from the National Science Foundation. How do you build this kind of a computer? But my real message is: That’s all just Stage 1. That’s all based on that first idea that Deutsch had. But this multiverse idea is more powerful than his concept of a Turing machine. And that’s what my new talk was this past week – the same concept of physics can be used to solve other problems in computing that Deutsch doesn’t know about. And I know about some problems in computing that he doesn’t know because I have the background in AI and neural networks. I know ways that you can use Deutsch’s physics to solve problems in computing, which make those old quantum computers look like a horse and buggy. We have technologies that we could be implementing tomorrow, which are like a million times more powerful than what they’re getting out of these quantum computers.

Metta Spencer  

Both.  Whoa. 

Paul Werbos  

Yeah. 

Metta Spencer  

I don’t know whether to be happy or sad.

Paul Werbos  

That’s a good reaction. That is a sane human s speaking. So many people either say it’s great or it’s terrible. Will we live? Or will we die? And you are saying the truth, which is I don’t know. And the next step is: What will decide whether it’s good or bad? And what can we do to save the human race from the bad scary things, but also get the benefits of the good things? That’s the question we should be asking. 

Metta Spencer  

Absolutely, yeah. Do you have a good answer for that one? You have an answer for a lot of stuff, but that one… 

Paul Werbos  

Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m a terrible communicator, but I’ve run across a lot of stuff I’ve learned. 

Metta Spencer  

Alright, proceed. How are we going to… now come on… in a simple way? And what we want is to go back to Popper. You have got to find a way to falsify everything. Everything. I don’t know how to do everything. Can you do that?

Paul Werbos  

Well, there are two issues right here, right now related to what you just said. One issue is: Is this true? So, I gave this video on how to build a third-generation quantum computer, two generations beyond David Deutsch. So, question one is: Is it true, can you do it? And question two is: If you can, what do you do about it from a policy point of view? How do you make it good? And how do you figure out how dangerous it could be? So those are two different questions: the policy question and the proof question. 

Metta Spencer  

If you hear some funny noises, because there’s a man hanging on a rope outside my window, throwing pebbles at the window, and I’m not joking. Hi, guy.

Paul Werbos  

I said life is weird. My whole life has been one impossible, weird thing after another. Starting in 1967. Although some people would say my mother was already a little different from average too. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay. Alright, which of these questions do you want to tackle? We have 20 minutes.

Paul Werbos  

Maybe the policy one, because I do have this video on YouTube on this new quantum technology. And that’s a whole hour on what can you do and that includes how to prove it. You know, what are the stages you go through to build it and prove it? So, in a way, I have already said that, but the policy question is closer to your bailiwick anyway: how do we save the human race? And to me, the policy question about this new quantum technology is one part of a complex set of what I call existential risks, coming from all kinds of internet technology. Two years ago, the Japanese and the Koreans asked me to give talks to their top policy people on the future of the Internet and what are the threats? And what can we do to prevent the biggest risks to the human race? I have a good friend named Jerry Glenn, who runs the Millennium Project, this big international futures group. We talked about him a lot. He has said: All over the world, we need to create an Office of Existential Threats. Threats to the survival of the human species for the UN Security Council. They have a human security office there already, but we need a new office in that office to address the major threats that confront the whole human race. And I have argued —

Metta Spencer  

I’ve just set up the first office right here, you’re on it. And I’ll be glad to give it to the right person, if you can figure out who wants to take it over. I am not sure the US government is the outfit that should run the Office of Existential Risks, but te idea is a great one. 

Paul Werbos  

So, the proposal that my friend Jerry is making around the world is that this office should not be run by any one country. It should be as open and transparent as you can make it, because half the existential risks are due to people hiding stuff, they want to use to kill other people. Right? So, it’s very important, it should be open and transparent, and available to the whole world with feedback mechanisms so they can learn from the whole world, which is just as important. And the place where it should be – Jerry says the place where this new office should be – is under the Office of Human Security, which now exists in the United Nations Headquarters located in New York – but you know the UN, you can have satellite offices all over – but the central place, it should be reporting is directly to the Security Council in New York. And he’s trying to get support from the General Assembly on a feasibility study to start making that happen. And my claim is, if you want to do it, right, you could screw it up easily and the US government could screw up, of course, there are lots of ways to screw it up. If you want to do it right, this new office should start with the two most urgent new divisions. And one would be a division on climate risk – the climate risks that could kill the human species. And I’m not just talking about wildfires or warming, I’m talking about much worse stuff. And the world needs to know about the worst stuff. They think they know about climate risks. They don’t. There are risks in climate, which are much worse than what any of these policymakers begins to understand. So that’s one of the divisions. We need to both get that information out and we need to get the solutions out. But we need another office, just as important, which deals with the whole complex of the future of the Internet. And one part of that is the new quantum technology. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay. 

Paul Werbos  

And the new quantum technology should be developed on this open international basis. And that’s where I would put this new research that I’ve been proposing for more advanced quantum computing.

Metta Spencer  

Oh. So, the research for your quantum computing is going to be done under the control of the Office of Existential Risk?

Paul Werbos  

That should be the central focal point, not the only point, but that should be the focal point for the new research.

Metta Spencer  

Well, you know, that is as close to a good idea as I can think of, but I immediately think you’re going to put it under the Security Council? I don’t think so.

Paul Werbos  

We’ve had so much discussions of that Security Council this year. The United Nations…. well, there is no government on Earth that has been perfect. The UN has not been perfect. The US government hasn’t been perfect. Even Canada hasn’t been perfect. But you’ve got a lot of competition when it comes to people doing crazy things. All around the world.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, I’ve got qualifications on Security Council… I mostly think in terms of… it would be a help and a step in the right direction if we had a Parliamentary Assembly, because that could have more clout in a way than the General Assembly and the Security Council. It would not be accountable to and not be under the control of nation states, but be accountable – theoretically, in principle – to the human population. The trouble is, I don’t have any use for the human population anymore.

Paul Werbos  

Well, you know…

Metta Spencer  

I’m sorry. 

Paul Werbos  

You may think it sounds like a joke, but to me it brings back memories of scary, real people I have met. When you talk about real threats coming from the internet, they are much bigger than most people know. And I have met some of these threats. And believe me, I have met some very scary people with capabilities you wouldn’t believe.

Metta Spencer  

I think we both must have met the same guys. 

Paul Werbos  

Well, we’ve met Popper. 

Metta Spencer  

But he’s a good guy. He was really a good guy. 

Paul Werbos  

No, I know, but we seem to have some other things in common. But I wonder, could you have ever met somebody as scary as some of the people I have met?

Metta Spencer  

I tell you what…. No, that would have been a whole different conversation if I answered you. So I’m not going to answer the question. 

Paul Werbos  

The whole audience would be interested. Or maybe it would be too scary to tell them? 

Metta Spencer  

Oh, no. I mean, it’s not that these people are not so powerful. The scariest people I know are ordinary people who want to get along with each other, and therefore they will allow each other to tell lies and they won’t challenge anything that the other person says, because they want to get along. That’s what I consider scary. 

Paul Werbos  

No, I agree with you. Lies are a big part of what is threatening our survival. 

Metta Spencer  

They are the majority of the people now and they win elections. And so, I don’t have any answer for that. I mean, I used to believe in democracy and I’ve got to the point, I can’t believe in democracy anymore, because I know my friends. I don’t trust my best friends anymore. I can’t. We’re all crazy.

Paul Werbos  

I’ve met folks who don’t trust any human being. There’s a lot of scary people. And they can do it. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, I mean, this is a whole different conversation, because it’s really where I’m at. I’m at the point of thinking, I have no solution to the problem that group dynamics is so powerful and people’s identities and, and affiliations and personal loyalties and things like that take precedence over any kind of rationality. And therefore, you can’t have a political system, you can’t have a democracy, where people base their judgments on complete falsehoods and know that they’re false. You can’t run the world that way. 

Paul Werbos  

Here’s part of the point. I even have a little web post that needs to be improved. You have something the UN could take over. I do too. If they create the Office, it should take over a lot of stuff. One of the things I have is called Sustainable Intelligent Internet. And this is a talk I gave in Korea and Japan. There is a way to try to design the future architecture of the internet to try to create what I would call networks of truth. A lot of the lies you see today – there are super lies today- the problem of lies is worse than it was 20 years ago. We didn’t invent the lie in computer science. But there are lies out there right now, which in many ways are more dangerous than the kind of lies we had back in the 1930s. And a lot of the reason why these lies have proliferated is because they’re proliferating on the internet. What if you had a tool for ordinary people, where ordinary people can connect in a way that doesn’t screw their heads? They have a choice. They can find out the truth. What if we build computer systems that are truly intelligent? That use high levels of intelligence, even quantum intelligence, to try to be able to balance it out to empower the humans by giving the humans knowledge and access which they don’t have in the world we are now building. So, we are building a dangerous world now, where humans have less and less power, where humans are oppressed more and more by whoever their boss is. They have less real information because of the lies. But what if we build an internet system to try to empower and inform the humans? A kind hybrid way of combining. So that’s my idea.

Metta Spencer  

Well, the problem is, what if they don’t want to hear you? You can tell them the truth and what if they don’t listen. What if they won’t? That’s what’s scary to me.

Paul Werbos  

Well, but see, if people don’t have a choice, what can they do? Now I know something about how human brains work. And I really believe that if humans had the right choices, and if they were really empowered – and they had the right choices – I think there’s a chance that humans could survive on this world. You’ll notice I’m not guaranteeing anything. But if we do the right thing, there’s a chance we could survive. 

Metta Spencer  

Say it again. 

Paul Werbos  

Okay, if we do the right things with the internet, if we design a system that is better at empowering people, than any of the things they’re working on today, I believe it is possible to empower humans and build a system which is more responsive to humans in such a way that together we’ll muddle through and we will survive. I think there is hope with that. And forgive me, if I say I think that God is a player in the game in the way I use the word God. I don’t use the word God the way the Pope does. I don’t use it the way I Einstein did.  have my own ideas of how it works?

Metta Spencer  

Okay, we have seven minutes now. You can do that. Explain God in 7 minutes. 

Paul Werbos  

Explain God in 7 minutes? Okay, you know, you’ve talked to the right guy. This has been a terrible year for a lot of people. I’ve had ups and downs like you wouldn’t believe. And I’ve had these contradictions. So, there are two books that I read a lot in the last year. One is a book by Carl Jung called The Red Book. And I discovered I could get a copy for $20 in a good Kindle edition from Amazon. The start of the book was very depressing. It was all these academic theorists with big words. And then begins the real book. Carl Jung talks about how the human mind and human life worked. And he lived in the 1920s in Europe. You think we’ve got problems? Well, they had a few problems in the 1920s, you know. Jung talked about something he calls the spirit of the times and the spirit of the deep. And I believe that the spirit of the deep and the spirit of the times actually connect two minds that I know about from my mathematics. I think there is a spirit of the times and a spirit of deep. And I think that the best use of the word God for me – the way I would like to use the word God – is to refer to what Jung calls the spirit of the deep, which is a real intelligence. And how does this intelligence work? Well, I can’t do that in one minute. But there is intelligence and purpose. And this is the funny thing, it’s in Einstein’s mathematics. We just have to understand the equations. I did a post on that on Blogspot this past week and I even copied it to Facebook.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, look, you’ve got to come back and we will do a whole hour on that blog. Okay? 

Paul Werbos  

Okay. Great. Thank you so much. This is fun. 

Metta Spencer  

Don’t go away. I don’t want to let go of you.  We’ve got another 5 minutes. 

Paul Werbos  

This gets to be at the far edges of what I understand. This is what I didn’t understand a year ago so it shouldn’t be easy to understand, unfortunately. But we know from physics, there are these Schrodinger cats. We know we can put systems in a state of quantum superposition even bigger than cats. The Chinese have done it with systems a thousand miles wide. You can build mixed states that big. You can build quantum You can build Schrodinger cats. But Einstein said we live in one universe. So, if there’s only one universe, how can there be a billion copies of me? And the answer takes some getting used to. The answer comes from something Plato said. Where Plato said: We are the self that we think we are most of the time. The self that we think we are most of the time, is like the shadows cast on the wall of the cave. And each true person can cast many shadows. And there’s only one true person, but there are many shadows. And these Schrodinger cats are really just shadows of what the universe eventually converges to. And believe it or not, I’ve worked out the math of it. It’s a paper I figured out 4 years ago and it took me 4 years to understand my own paper, because the math is very, very tricky

Metta Spencer  

I’m intrigued most by the notion of what the universe converges to. I don’t know what to ask about that. But converge to me sounds like something that’s going to happen in the future, like Teilhard de Chardin or something converging toward some final state. I don’t think that’s what you mean.

Paul Werbos  

Teilhard de Chardin, I want to treat with respect. Because there is so much truth in Teilhard de Chardin. It connects with his worldview, but that’s not the kind of convergence I’m talking about. To me Teilhard de Chardin, frankly, has more to do with the spirit of the times. The spirit of the times is in a way, the soul of our noosphere and of our solar system. And our solar system is so big, were just part of it. But it’s a small part of the whole cosmos. So, the spirit of the deep is as big as the cosmos. And the spirit of the times is just that little noosphere that we are part of. 

Metta Spencer  

Can you get guidance from it?

Paul Werbos  

As of this year, I think I have a better idea how to get guidance from the spirit of the deep. As of this year, I figured out how to make more conscious connection to the spirit of the deep. I have been able to make contact with the noosphere, with nature, and with life. I have known how to make contact with life and nature for many years, but the spirit of the deep, the big part of what changed for me this past year is to understand it and figure out better how to connect with it.

Metta Spencer  

Well, I would be happy to take a lesson or two.

Paul Werbos  

 I still have a lot of lessons I need to take. 

Metta Spencer  

This has been such fun. Listen, I don’t want to let you go, but times up. 

Paul Werbos  

Okay.

Metta Spencer  

Will you come back?

Paul Werbos  

 Oh, absolutely, absolutely. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, to be continued then. It’ll be interesting to see what people think of this show. 

Paul Werbos  

I’m sure there will be lots of tomatoes and also some good little gifts.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, well you know, we did not even get to what we were going to talk about, which is climate change. We’ll get to that one of these days, okay?   Okay. Bye. 

T84. Soap Operas for Social Change

T84. Soap Operas for Social Change

 

Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 84
Panelists: William (Bill) Ryerson
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  4 November 2019
Date Transcribed and Verified:  31 May 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne

Intro/Outro

Welcome. This is Talk About Saving the World, a weekly series of discussions sponsored by Peace Magazine and Project Save the World. Every week, we join some friends and experts at our respective webcams, to talk about how to prevent one or more of the six most serious global threats to humankind: war and weapons, especially nuclear; global warming; famine; pandemics; massive radiation exposure through something like a reactor explosion, and cyber-attacks. Our host is a retired University of Toronto sociology professor, Metta Spencer.

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And today I get to talk to one of my heroes. Because about 10 years ago, I wrote a book called Two Aspirins and a Comedy, which was about the use of fiction as a way of influencing public opinion or public awareness of various global issues. And it’s not something the world has been eager to hear more about, because the book didn’t have a huge audience. But I certainly was intrigued by the work of William Ryerson in a place called the Population Media Centre in Shelburne, Vermont.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

We’re now in South Burlington, but very close to Shelburne, where we started,

Metta Spencer  

Bill, tell us about, you can start at the top, and tell us about your work and how you use and promote the use of soap operas and other such methods. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Sure, there’s a good illustration of why we use melodrama and that is the treatment of HIV/AIDS by two American shows: 60 Minutes, which at the time, during the Clinton administration was the primetime show with a huge audience; and a daytime soap opera called The Bold and the Beautiful. Each one was provided with a unique 800 number that people could call to get information about HIV/AIDS after the treatment of this issue by these two shows. And they expected the calls generated from 60 Minutes with its much bigger audience would outnumber the calls generated by The Bold and the Beautiful. And Donna Shalala told this story at a meeting we organized for Hollywood professionals. She said the amazing thing was that 60 Minutes did its normal treatment, like a news magazine program of the epidemic and its origins and its magnitude and the treatments that were being developed; while The Bold and the Beautiful had a longtime character named Tony, who had been coming into people’s living rooms for years, discover he was HIV positive. And the calls generated by The Bold and the Beautiful, outnumbered the calls from 60 Minutes 10-to-1. This speaks to the power of storytelling and emotion. If you remember what you were doing on September 11 2001, more clearly than what you were doing on September 11 2011, which is 10 years more recent, there’s a reason for that and it’s called emotional involvement. Emotional involvement, as psychologists can tell you, enhances memory. So, regarding one of the early family planning soap operas, as we call them, or telenovelas, I was in the backseat of a taxi in Washington DC a few years ago with a middle-aged Indian gentleman. And I said to him, where were you living during the mid-1980s? And he said, I was in New Delhi at the time. And I said: Did you happen to see a TV show called Hum Log? – which in Hindi means We People. And he said: Oh my god, you know that program? And I said: Yes, I was involved with an organization that convinced Indira Gandhi to allow that program to go on the air. And the methodology used by that program was based on the work of Miguel Sabido of Mexico, who, along with my colleague met with Indira Gandhi. And he said: that’s so amazing. And then for the rest of the taxi ride, he told me episode by episode of the characters had done and what he had learned from them. And we’re talking more than 20 years later. 

Metta Spencer  

Now you’re not talking about a housewife who has nothing to do and is sitting at home bored. You’re talking about a guy who’s got plenty of work and is well established in life and he’s watching the soap opera.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Well, the big difference between what we think of as soap operas and programs of the type that Population Media Center does is they are primetime. They’re not daytime soap operas aimed at housewives or those who are stuck at home, they are primetime evening shows. But the concept of a serialized melodrama is the same. So, there’s a continuing storyline over 200 episodes in which positive and negative characters that populate all melodrama that are battling over various issues or values. And then the formulation created by Miguel Sabido of Mexico, there are middle of the road characters, designed to be aspirational, but similar to segments of the audience, who are getting that conflicting advice from the positive and negative characters. And over time, with a lot of suspense, a lot of cliffhangers, finally sorting out who’s right and who’s wrong, and gradually, with a lot of falling back, but gradually evolving in the positive role models for the audience. So that’s the design. And one of the great things about this in use of this strategy in the population field is that it’s respectful of human rights. We’re never telling the audience what to do. A lot of people are nervous about the population issue, because they’ve heard about coercion in India and China. And even when you look at public health messaging, it is such things as use a bed net, wear a condom, telling people what to do, which doesn’t really get a good reaction from a lot of people because they don’t want to be lectured to. But these programs are just modeling characters that people fall in love with, who are struggling with issues similar to what the audience is struggling with, and getting the conflicting advice that exists in that society. So, we do extensive formative research and then gradually evolving into positive role models. And because of pushback from trying innovative things like use of contraceptive methods, or stopping child marriage and sending daughters to school, or other innovations that may not be accepted in that traditional society, they get tremendous pushback, and these characters then fall back. And then they suffer the consequences of these negative behaviors. And then ultimately, they become absolutely committed to the new behavior. And they become advocates among the other characters, this role modeling advocacy for the audience, and we’re actually able to measure dramatic increases in interpersonal communication between audience members and friends and family that are modeled for them by the characters. And when you’re dealing with reproductive health issues, including family planning and HIV prevention, and various other issues like that, these are sensitive topics. And so, modeling how to have such a conversation with a loved one is very important to sort of give people permission and ideas of how to broach the subject. So Miguel Sabido created the strategy in the 1970s. And his first use of this strategy was with the issue of adult education. The Mexican Department of Public Education was running a campaign using public service announcements, advertising their literacy campaign, and you could take free evening classes. And then the year before Miguel created a telenovela dealing with this subject, the public service announcements generated 99,000 registrations for these classes. And Sabido saw these – 

Metta Spencer  

I’m sorry, but these public service announcements would be like spot ads? Call this number and sign up for an adult literacy course?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Exactly.

Metta Spencer  

 Something like that. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

If you would like to learn to read and write here’s a number you can call where you can sign up. Exactly. And so, Sabido said, since he was seeing these PSAs on Televisa airwaves, well let me include this issue in the next storyline I’m doing for a telenovela and these were primetime telenovelas. So, he created a program called Ven conmigo. And it had many illiterate characters suffering from poverty and unemployment. And then negative characters responded to these characters, inquiries about how can they improve their situation by saying to them what a lot of illiterate people hear: “Look, you’re just too old or too stupid to learn. So, forget about it. Learn to live with your poverty.” And the positive character said: “Of course, you can learn to read and write. You’re as smart as anybody else, you were just bypassed by formal education. But guess what, it’s not too late. You can take these free classes in the evening and improve your situation.” So, one by one, the character signed up, struggled through the classes, got their diplomas, got better jobs, and their lives improved. And well into this 260-episode program, Sabido’s most popular character, a grandfather figure, went through his graduation ceremony where he shed tears of joy, because finally he could read all the letters he had gotten over many years from his granddaughter. So, it was a highly emotional scene and then is followed by an ad, saying: Perhaps you too, would like to do what this man has done. And we’re going to read aloud the addresses of all the registration sites in Mexico, which they did. Before he put this episode on the air, Sabido called the government and said: I’ve been hearing your public service announcements. I have 33% of the nation’s viewers watching my program. Can you handle a crowd? And they said: Sir, we love your program, because it’s reinforcing our public service announcements. But yes, we signed up 99,000 people last year, so we can handle any number you might generate. 

Metta Spencer  

I think that’s wonderful. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

He runs that episode with the epilogue giving addresses and the following day 250,000 people show up in a single day. He continues running these epilogues for the remaining weeks of the serial drama, and by the time it ends: 840,000 people have signed up for adult education. So, compared to 99,000 the year before, this was more than eight times as many. And in response to a program that was profitable in this case, because it had such a big audience. And then Sabido did 5 family planning telenovelas modeling family planning use and teenage pregnancy prevention and related topics in 5 storylines that coincided with Mexico having the most dramatic decline in fertility rate of any developing country in the 20th century. So, this was recognized by the UN Population Fund with the UN Population Prize in 1986.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, well, now tell me, one of the things that you said is you want to have people backsliding and going back and forth. It sounds as if the show about adult education… How did they work that out? That some people would waiver and think they’re going to do it, but then back out, or…?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Some people dropped out of the classes because they were difficult. And then they got the courage to come back and finish the courses. So, it’s a little different from how one might give up use of family planning methods or educating their daughters, but a similar idea. They slid back into their old ways, because it wasn’t totally easy. I mean, learning to read and write as an adult is a challenge. But indeed, they demonstrated the courage to do that and the huge ultimate effect that has on their quality of life.

Metta Spencer  

Now, I heard of one case – that was a long time ago when I was into this literature – in Africa someplace. I can’t remember, whether it was Somalia or where it was, but it was about a truck driver who was stopping along the way to visit prostitutes and his wife knew that he was exposing himself and so she made him start using condoms or something and then he dies as I recall. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

That’s correct. His name was Mkwaju. Mkwaju attracted a huge male following in Tanzania, where that radio serial drama aired. It started in 1993 and I was there for the training workshop. Our representative from Kenya – Tom Kazungu – the first African trained by Sabido to use this methodology came after having a very successful program in Kenya and trained the Tanzanian writing team. And so, Mkwaju is having this wonderful lifestyle except he’s obviously at great risk. And his wife Tenu stands up to him on a home visit early in the show in 1993, and says: Look, I know what you’re up to on the road. And I’ve heard about the AIDS epidemic. So, you’re going to have to use condoms when you’re at home and she made that happen. And so, Mkwaju ultimately dies of AIDS. Tenu takes a job and ultimately becomes an entrepreneur and founds her own business. So that was the storyline.

Metta Spencer  

It’s not only an anti-HIV program, it’s also about feminist empowerment.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Yes, we model female entrepreneurship. And we have a storyline related to family planning as well. So, just to give you an idea of the evaluation that we put together for this show: I took two scholars who were involved in evaluation of communication programs and they work with one of the ministries of the government in Tanzania that put together what was a semi-controlled experiment. So, part of the country got music during the time slot, when the rest of the country got this radio serial drama and radio was the only way to go at the time, because there was no TV outside of Dar es Salaam and there was really only one radio station: Radio Tanzania. So, it was a great time to do this study. So twice a week for 2 years – from 1993 to 1995 – this program was broadcast in all but one region and that region got music. So, the control area otherwise got all the national programs dealing with family planning and HIV prevention. And then to make sure that it wasn’t that the people in the control region were different, the following 2 years – from 1995 to 1997 – we broadcast the program in the control region around the transmitter in Dodoma, Tanzania. And here’s what we learned, because there were nationwide surveys annually of just under 3000 people, a random sample hour long interview to determine knowledge, attitudes, and self-reported behavior. And then we got other behavioral information from the Ministry of Health’s National AIDS Control Program. So, the survey at the end of the first two years, where the show was broadcast everywhere except the Dodoma region, showed in the broadcast areas 58%. were listening on a regular basis. In the non-broadcast area, 2% claimed to have heard it on shortwave, but it was essentially no one compared to the broadcast area. And among the listeners in the broadcast areas, 82%, said the program had caused them to change their own behavior to avoid HIV infection. Number 1 through reduction in the number of partners; and second through condom use. So, to see if we could find any correlation, we got the condom distribution data from the National AIDS Control Program in the government, since distribution was done in response to demand, and it was broken down by district. So, in the districts that made up the control area, there was a 16% increase in condom distribution, while which probably didn’t result from this program, while in the broadcast areas, condom distribution increased 153%. On family planning use, I got the Minister of Health to have health care workers at ministry family planning clinics, ask new adopters, what has motivated their decision, and to give us the numbers by district. So, what that showed was in the control area, there was 0 change in the number of family planning adopters, while in the broadcast areas, there was a 32% increase. When those new adopters were asked: What motivated the decision? 41% of them named the program by name. Then when we broadcast the program and the control area, we got —

Metta Spencer  

It wasn’t just that you had a checklist and asked them to check whether they’ve watched soap operas or that show?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

It was an open-ended question. 

Metta Spencer  

They volunteered the name of the show without being asked for what they’ve been doing with media, right?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

That’s right with this detail. 25% named the show outright because they were just asked: Can you identify the primary factor that caused you to come? 25% answered with the name of the show Twende na Wakati which means Let’s Go With the Times. Another 16% said it was something I heard on the radio. And those people were then shown a list of programs on the radio and asked to determine which one it was and they picked Twende na Wakati. So that came to 41% in total. But they weren’t given a list to start with. Then when we ran the program in the control area, we got the same results. So, it was clear that it wasn’t the people in Dodoma were somehow different.

Metta Spencer  

It is so spectacularly important, you would think that everybody in the world would realize that this is what we should be doing with our television shows, with all kinds of things. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Absolutely. 

Metta Spencer  

Yeah.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

There’s a lot of promise in broadcasting to do good, but it’s basically been auctioned off to the highest bidder in the West. But still there is the possibility of doing really high-quality social content programs that serve the audience well and still, because they’re well written, attract huge audiences.

Metta Spencer  

I went to Hollywood and talk to a woman who’s name you probably remember, but I have forgotten now, she had an office connected with I think, USC, some program developing —

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Hollywood Health and Society?

Metta Spencer  

Could be, very likely. And she had connections in the industry, with writers of television and movies also, but mostly, I think, also radio. And they would call her, you know, some of the writers and would say: I’ve got a storyline in which the character has such a such a disease. Give me information about what that is like and what the symptoms should be and how do I write this story about that disease? And then: What is the cure for it and can we work that in? So, she had the medical information available and would give it them upon request, but they were also doing outreach to various shows. And I happened to be at that point, watching a show called Numbers, which was I remember I was I was interested in it because of my interest in Rob Morrow, who had roles in other shows that I found extremely interesting from some of the same reasons. Morrow was playing in this thing called Numbers and this woman had been working on trying to get people to sign the card for organ donation. So, at the end of this particular episode, I knew that she had been involved with this, because the one of the characters comes in and at the end of the show, he says: I got my driver’s license renewed today. So, Rob Morrow’s character said: Well, did you sign the organ donor card? And he said: No, I don’t want to take the chance that they’ll do it too soon or something like that. And so, Rob said: No, no, Dad and I will make sure that they don’t – and they reassure each other that it’s, you know, if he signs the card, it’ll be alright. And he says: Okay, I’ll sign the card. So, you know, it’s clear that her office had succeeded in reaching the writers of this particular show and getting them to put it put this in, I would love to see if somebody had kept records of how many more organ donor cards got signed that week than the previous week, but I don’t think they have it. But I understand that some of the shows – medical shows – there was… what was it… ER?… that often had serious medical information. More people would get their real knowledge about diseases and cures and things from this TV show than any other source.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

That’s very true. 

Metta Spencer  

Yeah.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

 Donna Shalala in the same talk that I mentioned, where she pointed out the huge response The Bold and the Beautiful’s treatment of HIV/AIDS, mentioned that more people get their health information from entertainment shows like soap operas and evening shows, then get them from medical professionals. So, it’s very clear these shows have an obligation to give out accurate information when they’re treating a disease. Grey’s Anatomy has been another one that has done a lot of extraordinary work to help people understand details related to various ailments in the context of an entertainment show and we’ve done certainly Hollywood Health and Society has done wonderful work and it’s very cost effective – when you can get a very popular mainstream show – to include mention of any issue. In in our formulation where we’re dealing with an issue or several issues over a period of dozens or hundreds of episodes, it allows us a lot of time to show evolution of characters and do that only after the audience has fallen in love with them. So that we can, in fact lead a large percent of the audience to change behavior. And I, as I mentioned with the Radio Tanzania project, there was a huge change in self-reported behavior and measurable behavior at clinics and condom distribution, that verify there was a show that was causing that. And we then calculated the cost of the entire 208 Episodes, and the primetime air distribution, and all the research surveys and divided that total cost by the number of people who had adopted family planning and attributed that decision to the program. And it came out to 32 cents US. The cost per person who said they changed behavior to avoid HIV infection was 8 cents. And when I saw that data, I said, you know, there is no more cost-effective strategy for saving lives and motivating people to benefit from family planning than this strategy. And that’s what motivated me to start Population Media Center in 1998.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, okay. So, somebody motivated you?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Yes. Well, I was involved in that research.

Metta Spencer  

Alright, let me give you a story of my own about motivation. Because, you know, I published this book Two Aspirins and a Comedy, which really was largely about the use of fiction and para-social relationships, emotional bonds to fictional characters. And I also wrote a book about Russia, you know, The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy. I had an opportunity to talk with a politician in Russia named Gregory Yavlinsky who was the leader of the Yabloko Party, the most democratic party in Russia at the time that I think, probably still, today. He had run for President of Russia twice and he’s done rather well. He was extremely enthusiastic about my proposal for how to change Russian political culture. I said: How about if we had a television drama, sort of like the West Wing? And with the West Wing, I think it was… I heard that because Martin Sheen played a character, President Bartlett, and he was such a great president for liberals, I understand – somebody said – that may have cost Al Gore his selection, because Al Gore was a pretty good guy, but he couldn’t hold a candle to President Bartlett. So, people may have thought, well, he’s a poorer second choice, you know, anyway, point was that every year or every week, there would be an installment in which a real political issue was the topic of the day, you know, they had three storylines going for each episode, and one of them would be about a real political issue. And I said: Now, if we could have a, a show set in the Kremlin, with really great Russian president, like President Bartlett, and have the issues of Russia of the day, the issue that we would be discussing there… we could really have some influence, because I think probably the West Wing really influenced people’s thinking, and said, you know: If you could make that happen -and he seemed to think I could, like I could just snap my fingers create a television series – but if you could make that happen, I would quit my job as the head of the party and I’d spend 18 hours a day for the rest of my life working for the show. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Wow. 

Metta Spencer  

Because, he immediately saw the point that yes, it would be great. And of course, you can’t get. So actually, I tried to get a show, based on Gorbachev’s Green Cross International, which was something he was president of, and then I’d have a story set in the in the Middle East after a war in which people were coping with the after effects of war and how to get back to peace issues. And so, Gorbachev and – well I know his friend and his assistant – Alexander Likhotal and they both liked the idea. So, we were out hunting for a producer that would put on you know, create such a show. Now, no, we didn’t get first base. It’s really hard, you know.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

It is not easy.

Metta Spencer  

Why? 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

However, we have made that happen in Hollywood.

Metta Spencer  

You know, people in Hollywood, a lot of them have good values. And maybe, you know, not only all topics, but politically, they’re pretty much, you know, left liberal folks. And you think they would be enthusiastic about this and realize that what they’re doing actually has an impact, but what can you do? 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

In fact, I think many Hollywood professionals stick with violence and sex as a way to ensure large audiences. And while they may not be aware that there’s very strong evidence that such role modeling leads to negative behaviors, by some in the audience, they just don’t know how to go about incorporating positive content, because they’re afraid they’ll lose audience share. We did a show for Hollywood, that I was sure given how competitive it is, would end up on our website. And it is a show about the lives of Hispanic teens. It’s in English, but Hispanic paints have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the US with 50% of Hispanic girls pregnant by the age of 18. So, I went out to Hollywood and shook hands around Los Angeles with various production companies and networks and all of them laughed at the idea that we could do anything, because we hadn’t worked there before, even though we worked in many countries overseas. And then I met with Nely Galán who had been running Telemundo and she connected me with Carlos Portugal, a filmmaker trained at UCLA film school who had done English and Spanish language telenovelas and I had lunch with him and hired him to be director and head writer of the show, we are going to create, as I said I thought would end up on our website. And he hired a writing team. And we sent one of our vice presidents out to manage this project and went out and trained the writing team in the Sabido methodology. And then they produce 24 half hour episodes in a gripping storyline, about the lives of teens at a fictional high school called East Los High, as in East Los Angeles, where it was filmed. And it deals with the lives of the girls in the dance troupe, their competition against other dance troupes, their love lives, pregnancies, use of contraception, etc. And after they had produced the 24 episodes, they put it out for network inspection. And it was so well done, eight networks wanted it. We chose Hulu, an online network with 30 million viewers at the time. And it became the longest running program in the history of that network. And was in the Top 5 for all five years it was on the network. It’s still there if you’re a subscriber, but we’re not producing new episodes now. But it was the number 1 show among Latino viewers for all 5 years. And it was number 1 on the entire network during Season 2 when it dealt with domestic violence. So, East Los High is our first foray into Hollywood. And we have several more planned. So, I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll all start to influence the Hollywood community with the fact that you can do positive messaging in programs and have a hit show at the same time.

Metta Spencer  

People in Hollywood producers and so on are extremely nervous about receiving unsolicited manuscripts or even project proposals. So, they have -almost all of them, I guess – a special team of people to open the mail. So, if you happen to send them something, an idea for a show, they have somebody to open it and send it back to you and say thank you, we have not seen this because they have been sued. Some of them have been sued as having stolen ideas when in fact they didn’t steal it. They came up with something very similar on their own. But it was so similar to a show proposal that they’d received in the mail that they were, you know, they were sued for plagiarism or for not having credited the real author and they’re scared to death of that, which means you can’t influence those guys in Hollywood at all. At least I can’t. And unless you have a friend, like your woman friend who does the telenovelas, forget it.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Well, now that we’ve had this show on the air, the Hollywood community is well aware of it. It was nominated for 5 Emmy Awards. It got numerous awards for social relevance. And so now Hollywood is very aware of it and we’re getting calls from people about ideas they have for a show they might want to do. 

Metta Spencer  

Great. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Most of our work remains in the developing world. And the reason we’re doing that – when we get back to the population issue – is that while many people think nonuse of contraception is a result of lack of access, in fact, the demographic and health surveys that are carried out all over the world in developing countries every 5 years show the top reasons for non-use of contraception are: number 1 wanting more children; and then after that, 2nd fear of health effects; and 3rd: opposition, personal spousal or religious opposition. So those cultural and informational barriers can be dramatically affected through role modeling and dealing with the reality of, for example, in Muslim countries, that there’s an official finding, that basically says the Qur’an inherently endorses family planning, whereas many people don’t know this. So, it is possible to reach large audiences and change norms. And I’ll just give you a couple of examples. 1 in Sierra Leone, we did a 208-episode radio serial drama, and at family planning clinics across the country, new adopters were asked what motivated the decision and 50% of them named our program. In northern Nigeria, a similar length program of 208 episodes, was cited by 67% of family planning adopters who were interviewed at 11 different clinics asking new clients why they had come. And we’ve seen this now in many countries where on that issue, on attitudes about violence against women, on attitudes about girls education, on attitudes about child marriage, and interventions to stop child marriage, we’ve had profound effects. For example, in Nepal, we did two radio programs addressing child marriage and our listeners were more than twice as likely as non-listeners to report having intervened to stop children from being married.

Metta Spencer  

How widespread is that practice still in a country like Nepal to begin with or other countries? 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

It’s very common in Nepal. Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage on the planet. And it affects boys and girls, often they are married without any say in the matter, at 7, 8, 9 years old, and then live with one of the parents, normally his parents until they’re old enough to live on their own. But that practice is something that the government is trying to change. The first president after the end of the monarchy, actually launched our show. He had been married against his will at age 14 and felt very strongly that this practice had to stop. And it’s very true in many African countries. In northern Nigeria, we see girls being married at 9, 10, 11, 12 years old. So, changing that and motivating parents to educate their daughters not only improves the health and welfare of the women and ultimately their children, but leads to much lower fertility rates.

Metta Spencer  

You mentioned a bit ago that the top reason for the reluctance to use condoms is people want to have more children. Now, the question is: How much is the desire for family size changing in places where we would hope that it would change the most, that is places where the population is growing very rapidly? How much is it changing? And can it be affected very much by any of the shows that are of the type that you’ve produced?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Let me give you an example. The first show Tom Kazungu did in Kenya dealt with the link between family size decision and land inheritance – a very hot issue in Kenya. So, there are two brothers, co-farming a farm they inherited from their father, and they’re now getting ready to retire. 1 of them has 9 sons and 1 has 1 son. And they’re talking about how to divide the farm up. And the one with 9 sons said let’s divide the farm and 10 equal portions among our 10 sons. And the 1 with 1 son said: No way, your son’s gonna have your half, my son will have my half. And so, it becomes the tale of 2 families with these 9 sons with teeny plots of land, unable to feed their parents or their children and living in poverty and the 1 son who marries a woman from another tribe, and has 1 daughter, sends her through university and supports his parents gloriously in their old age. Desired number of children during the 2 years of that nationwide broadcast fell from 6.6 to 4.4. Contraceptive prevalence went up 58%. University of Nairobi School of Journalism which did interviews all over the country at family planning clinics evaluated it as the most impactful program in the history of family planning in Kenya. 

Metta Spencer  

Wow! 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Now, in much of Africa and Asia, desired number of children is quite close to actual fertility rate. So, people may want 4.5 average and have 5. And so, there is some error that could be improved with better contraceptive methods. But, in West Africa, desired fertility is typically above actual fertility. In Niger, for example, fertility is 7.6 children per woman. But when women are asked in the demographic survey how many children, they think is ideal: they say 10 and men say 13. In Nigeria, fertility is 5.7. Women want 7, men want 9 and only 10% of married women are using modern methods of contraception in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. So, changing desired family size, and overcoming the opposition and fear of health effects that are based largely on misinformation can make dramatic changes, as we’ve seen in northern Nigeria where huge percentages of new adopters of family planning say that our program is the reason.

Metta Spencer  

Fascinating, fascinating. What would you do other than tie it to land? What kind of a plot would you use besides land distribution?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Miguel Sabido looked at this question when he decided to address family planning 3 years after Mexico had legalized contraception and basically there are 3 areas that typically get used to show the benefit of family planning on a personal level. Economic welfare – so in fact, the demographic dividend is a result of having smaller numbers of children to feed, house, and clothe – allowing people to save some money; building capital in the marketplace; allowing businesses to borrow and expand; driving up employment; driving up wages; creating a middle class; and taxable incomes that can be used by the government to build schools and roads and other infrastructure. The second is health. So, early and repeated childbearing and particularly early childbearing – is a major factor in maternal mortality and morbidity and in infant mortality. And spacing of children and starting later when one reaches adulthood, are key steps to improve maternal health and to reduce mortality among women and children. So those are two – but Miguel Sabido – for his first program, chose a third. And that is family harmony. So, he created Marta and Jesus, a young middle-class couple with 2 children, trying to hold their marriage together and watching their friends fall into poverty as they had baby after baby. And she had grown up in poverty in a family of 10 children and didn’t want to repeat that. So they struggle on how to achieve the small family goal. And because at the time, they didn’t know about contraception, she separates their beds, which in the case of her husband, did not improve family harmony. And then she finds out about the rhythm method and she presents that to him. And he goes along with it until it’s time to be disciplined and then he gets angry. And finally, she learns about the fact that there’s something medical you can do and in front of a huge audience nationwide in Mexico, they visit a MexFam clinic – the Planned Parenthood of Mexico – and hear about all the methods and adopt an IUD and live happily ever after. And then they were very happy, because they didn’t have to have this periodic discipline. And they were able to achieve the family they wanted. And it led to a 33% increase in clinic attendance in a 6-month period.

Metta Spencer  

And you write stories yourself?

William (Bill) Ryerson  

I do not. 

Metta Spencer  

You do not? Well, you have an operation there that seems to be actually engaged in helping people produce shows. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

We hire writers and producers in every country who speak the local language. We put them through a formative research process where they learn about the lifestyles and attitudes of the rural population. And then based on the training we give them; they create the show in a way that’s totally culturally relevant. So, it can be much better than if we were trying to write them in our headquarters.

Metta Spencer  

Once I went to a show meeting in Atlanta for people many years ago – 15 years ago or so – who were interested in using soap operas for social change. And I met a man named Fox, I can’t remember his name, but he’s been a producer of shows in Hollywood. I think TV shows mostly. And he said that to be effective, you can’t have an international show as effective as one that set in the local language and showing the lifestyle of the local people.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Exactly right. And Sonny Fox was our West Coast representative at the time. He was at one point in his career, Head of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Co-Founder of the International Television Academy. And he set up a meeting that involved me and Albert Bandura – a Stanford psychologist who’s the world’s authority on role modeling – at the CDC in Atlanta. It may have been that same event where you met him.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, it probably was. Some years ago, uh-huh. So, it is apparently true. In a way, it’d be a lot better if you could have kind of a one big show that would work for the whole world and you could do something like, it might be in English, and you could dub it in foreign languages and so on. But he didn’t think that would work, that you’d have to have specific shows made that were about people in their own culture.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

My view is, it’s possible to have shows like telenovelas from Mexico and Brazil, dubbed into local languages and have some influence. And certainly, American television shows dubbed in local languages have some influence. But nothing is more powerful than something that looks as if it’s about your own culture and your own situation. So doing programs in local languages, I think is far more powerful. And based on the local culture, then of bringing in external shows from other cultures and dubbing them.

Metta Spencer  

Well, maybe it’s also easier to get hired or get access to, you know, airtime if you’re dealing with a local or a smaller scale than if you try to go through Hollywood or one of the big networks or so.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Hollywood is not an easy place to work.

Metta Spencer  

It isn’t, then, but I’m hoping that maybe…wouldn’t it be desirable to have some sort of social campaign where we could make people aware of the desirability of having good dramas of programming that have social messages? I just admire that so much. Of course, you have occasionally a company like Participant Media that produces shows with really good content, strong social messages, and so on.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Participant, by the way, has now taken a big interest in what we’re doing.  Are they? We’ve had this one show: East Los High. Now we have 17 additional show concepts that we’re working on. Some of them getting very close to going to market, like a serialized drama about the lives of young people in Harlem. So, I hope we will expand our portfolio and footprint in Hollywood and in the US, in part because the US does export a lot of its media around the world. I bought Season One of East Los High in a pirate video shop in Kampala, Uganda. And, you know, to what extent it’s having an influence on Ugandan attitudes? I don’t know, but it’s probably helping. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, that’s wonderful. Yeah. Jeffrey Skoll is very high on my pantheon of saints. Some rich guys who know what to do with their money that really is valuable. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Exactly. Yes.

Metta Spencer  

That kind of contribution is fabulous. And you’re now on my pantheon of saints.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Oh, Metta, thank you very much.

Metta Spencer  

I really think this is such a suitable and acceptable medium for trying to influence public opinion and political values and so on. It’s because it’s voluntary, you know, because you’re not forcing anything on anybody. You’re giving them the option of watching a drama that they can turn off if they don’t like it. But they watch it because they want to.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

And it’s not manipulative, unlike what one would traditionally call propaganda. It’s not giving one option. It’s showing a range of behaviors and realistic consequences of those behaviors. And letting the audience decide which of those consequences they want to pursue.

Metta Spencer  

You know, I watch a lot of… when I go to bed at night, I usually turn on CNN and watch what Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo and those guys are saying about Trump. And it’s always absolutely, totally convincing. And yet, boy, after a while, they always change the subject. Is there any way we can think of addressing some of the issues that are ongoing on around the world today? In the US most conspicuously and Brexit, which I think is a tragedy unfolding. They’re about to really leave the EU, I think, I think it’s really going to happen now. And all of these right-wing populist movements, that are somehow finding such resonance. And I think what it’s about…. I am not much of a Marxist frankly, never have been, I guess I would say I’m a Weberian mostly. And I think, in a sense, that there’s such a thing as status that’s different from class. You know, class is about money; status is about local prestige or your sense of position, respectability, honor within society, and so on. And the prestige level or status level that people have, has been declining in ways that, I think, is reflected in this move toward populist right-wing action. It isn’t they really like Trump’s economic proposals, it is that they want to keep out these immigrants who are getting higher status than they have, you know, that White, Protestant, longtime Americans think that all you have to do is appear as an immigrant from a dark-skinned country, and you’ll be given privileges that they are no longer having. And so, the sense of declining of status and resentment against people who are being helped by left liberals like myself, I think this resentment is something that finds expression in things like – at their most extreme end would be the neo-Nazi movement – these parades like Charlottesville. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

I think that it’s pretty clear that the swing towards more conservative governments in Europe and North America has, at least in the US, has been in part fueled by fear of rising numbers of migrants. And certainly, the massive migrations across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe have led to a rapid rise in conservative movements and concern on how to keep people out and keep them from competing for jobs and so on. And justified or not justified, this is a factor in what we see going on in the world and one that’s quite predictable because of the unsustainable population growth in some of the sending countries, leading to both ecological and political deterioration and leading to people leaving for places that they think they can obtain refuge. 

Metta Spencer  

The tip of the iceberg. You know, 10 to 15 years from now when the oceans start rising, and Bangladeshis got to go someplace, or even people in Miami got to go someplace for that matter. When we have floods and we have unsustainable agricultural lands and so on, the migration is going to multiply.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

And guess what: India is building a wall to keep the Bangladeshis out.   

Metta Spencer  

Gee. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

They see it coming.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, boy. Oh, boy, I just got your newsletter today. I haven’t read it yet, but I did see one thing. You mentioned that although the prediction had been something like 9 billion people to be on the planet by a certain date, I don’t know, 2050, whatever it was, you said… That they’ve upped it now to 11 something? Tell me about that. That projection is news to me. And very unwelcome news.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Over the last several UN Population Division projections, which happen every couple of years, they have been adjusting their assumptions upward, because fertility rates have not been falling as fast as they had predicted. And mortality rates have been coming down. So it means that population growth rates are much higher than originally forecast say 20 years ago. And so, one of the reasons for this is that much of the global community has focused on improving access to contraceptive methods. While as I mentioned earlier, the primary barriers to use are cultural and informational factors, like desire, family size, fear of health effects, and various forms of opposition. So, in the now, the end of century projections are much higher than they were just 20 years ago. Hopefully this can change. I mean, certainly, we’ve seen examples in many countries of dramatic changes in number of children and in desired number of children.

Metta Spencer  

The resentment of that kind of culture of elite, educated, West Coast and East Coast intellectuals or professionals somehow is a big motivating factor.

William (Bill) Ryerson  

When we started East Los High, Carlos Portugal was so excited because he said to me: You mean this is going to be a show all about Hispanic life and not where the only Hispanic character is the gardener. And I said: Exactly this needs to serve the Hispanic community. And why I bring this example up is I think, when people get to know migrants, or people of different faiths, or people who have different cultural traditions, on a personal level, they lose a lot of their fear. And if you don’t have them as neighbors, having shows that show the reality and the human kindness of people from other cultural settings, is one way that the public can learn about who we’re talking about, rather than just looking images that are created by political opportunists. 

Metta Spencer  

If we can create programming that really illustrated the kind of solutions that we think might work for people, it would be a huge contribution to the world. 

William (Bill) Ryerson  

Well, one way that people can find out about these shows is going to our website, which is populationmedia.org. And if they are Hulu subscribers, they can go on the Hulu site and search for East Los High and watch 61 episodes of a very gripping drama. So those are two places people can start.

Metta Spencer  

Well, I’ll go look at it myself. I haven’t seen it yet. But bless you. Thank you so much, Bill. It’s been fun and really very, very valuable.

Intro/Outro  

This conversation is one of the weekly series Talk About Saving the World, produced by Peace Magazine and Project Save the World. Please visit our website tosavetheworld.ca where you can sign the Platform for Survival, a list of 25 public policy proposals that, if enacted, would greatly reduce the risk of 6 global threats to humankind. Come back next week for another discussion of a serious global issue.

T222. BWXT’s Uranium Secrets

T222. BWXT’s Uranium Secrets

Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 222
Panelists: Zach Ruiter and Adam Wynne
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  9 April 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified:  10 June 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne

Note: This transcript has been edited. 

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today we’re going to look at some of the effects of uranium and particularly if you happen to live in the Great Lakes area. I’m in Toronto. We are very concerned about some of the ways in which uranium is being processed and handled in our area. And so, my assistant Adam Wynne will join me in talking with a man named Zach Ruiter, who is also in Toronto at the moment. And both of them are quite aware of some of the risky things going on in the Toronto area involving uranium. So, hello, Zach, how are you? 

Zach Ruiter  

Good. Thank you. 

Metta Spencer  

Good. Nice to see you here. And Adam, say hello to the whole world.

Adam Wynne  

Hello. It’s good to be here as well, instead of just watching behind the scenes.

Metta Spencer  

Adam is my right hand, whatever that means. Anyway, hello Zach. Let’s talk about the BWXT. Is that the name of the company? I had never heard of it until recently. It’s not a brand name that I’m familiar with. Tell me all about what they do and why we should be a little bit apprehensive.

Zach Ruiter  

BWXT is the acronym for Babcock & Wilcox Technologies. They are a longtime player in the nuclear weapons and nuclear power industry. They were the ones, I believe, who manufactured the Three Mile Island reactor which had a catastrophic accident and polluted the town in Pennsylvania. Of which, a shout out to Libbe HaLevy, of the Nuclear Hotseat Podcast, who is a survivor of the Three Mile Island accident. 

Metta Spencer  

She was, by the way, one of my guests. I did a talk show with her. 

Zach Ruiter  

Oh, great. 

Metta Spencer  

She is a fabulous person because every week she does a talk show about risky things having to do with radiation. bless her heart. Wonderful work. 

Zach Ruiter  

Yeah. Really thorough work, really passionate work. We’re really lucky to have someone like Libbe HaLevy as a journalist who’s covering issues of radiation, especially in a time when mainstream media is contracting and also largely bought by large interests. So, it’s crucial to have independent media like Libbe HaLevy on the scene. 

Metta Spencer  

I agree. 

Zach Ruiter  

Yeah. Back to BWXT, I first became aware of them in 2015 or 2016, when they signed an agreement with General Electric Hitachi to purchase their nuclear fuel fabrication facilities in Toronto and Peterborough. These are 2 facilities that have been really embattled over the past few years due to the public’s increasing awareness of the effects of their operations. I got involved in 2010 when then General Electric Hitachi got permission to process enriched uranium 25 meters away from an elementary school in Peterborough in secret, but in the form of a license amendment by the Nuclear Safety Commission. One of the requirements of their license was that they consult the public and their version of consulting the public was sort of slipping a little flyer, a little advertising note in a larger sort of portion of junk mail, you know, like the advertisements from Canadian Tire and stuff like that saying: We’re General Electric Hitachi, we’re your neighbor, let us know if you have any questions. They counted that as public consultation. And then, at the hearing when I heard Peter Mason, then CEO of General Electric Hitachi, saying: We went above and beyond our duty to consult the public. And it’s quite natural to think the public was satisfied because we didn’t hear anything from them. I knew then that if they were willing to blatantly lie to the commission and regulator about that, that they must be lying about other things. And then that has started a now almost close to now 11 or 12 year battle for transparency with that entity. So, it used to be General Electric and now it’s BWXT.

Metta Spencer  

When they became BWXT was 11 years ago? 

Zach Ruiter  

No, sorry, it’s hard to remember. I think it was 2015. It was just recently. They never really explained why they sold. 

Metta Spencer  

You were fighting General Electric Hitachi even before they became BWXT? 

Zach Ruiter  

Correct. And General Electric in Peterborough is known for poisoning generations of workers and families with PCBs, asbestos, and contaminating Little Lake and the Otonabee River system up there. There’s a huge number of former workers who have ongoing Workplace Safety Insurance Board claims. There’s been big exposés about the number of workers with terminal cancers there. And there’s also a Toronto General Electric facility, but that’s now turned into Davenport Village condos. And think because it’s in a large city, it’s kind of easy to lose track of all the people who come and go; whereas in Peterborough there’s a lot of community and a lot of visibility to the fact that all these workers and their families and people living around there have become really sick over the years.

Metta Spencer  

Okay. Now, but how much was that known and how much did you contribute to the exposé? 

Zach Ruiter  

Well, it was known and the way that General Electric explained it is: We’ve always worked with the best information available to us at the time. So, when I was at the commission in 2010, I found out that there was there was a joint license for a facility in Toronto not far from where I grew up in Toronto. And then when I went to Toronto, when I sort of started knocking on doors in 2011 or 2012 and asking people do you know what this facility does in Toronto? And most of them thought it made televisions or air conditioners. They were surprised to find out that it was indeed a nuclear fuel fabrication processing facility that processes about 150 tons of uranium per month. They take yellowcake uranium dioxide fuel powder — 

Metta Spencer  

All of that goes on right here in Toronto? 

Zach Ruiter  

Yes.

Metta Spencer  

Whoa. That’s news to me.

Zach Ruiter  

That’s news to you? Okay, yea. And it was news to the people living around there.

Metta Spencer  

What’s the difference between what they do in Toronto and what they do in Peterborough?

Zach Ruiter  

Toronto is by magnitudes exponentially more radioactive than what they do in Peterborough. In Toronto, they take the uranium fuel that comes in drums and the powder and they cook it at 1650 degrees centigrade into fuel pellets that will then go into the zirconium fuel rods. And basically, in Peterborough, they received the pellets from the Toronto facility and they shave them down, they coat them with a toxic heavy metal called beryllium which is a lubricant of sorts, and then they insert them there. So, the real current issue with toxic exposure in Peterborough is actually from that beryllium process. There’s a beryllium stack that is like 2 feet away from the sidewalk and right across the street from the [Prince of Wales] elementary school. And there’s been increasing levels of beryllium in the soil, but they have done tests and they’ve concluded that there’s no way that the beryllium stack that releases the beryllium across the street could have impacted the rising levels in the soil. 

Metta Spencer  

Where else did it come from? Please.

Zach Ruiter  

I think they think that it kind of occurs naturally as well. Beryllium is very difficult to test for. But back to Toronto —

Metta Spencer  

Now wait a minute, I don’t want to let go of this. What do you believe? What do you think? I mean, they’re finding beryllium out in the kids’ playground? 

Zach Ruiter  

In the kids’ playground, yes. 

Metta Spencer  

You’re finding beryllium and you would not normally find beryllium out in my backyard, would you?

Zach Ruiter  

I think you might find trace amounts, but there were elevated levels. Even the Medical Officer of Health said it was concerning. But the trick of the regulator and the industry – and the regulator, which is like an industry captured regulator – is to always say it’s within the background, and it’s definitely below the safety standard. The safety standard is usually set so high, as to say that anything that goes on below is not a problem, but when you see increasing levels and there are air emissions right across from where there are increasing levels: to me, it just says that the precautionary principle should apply and they shouldn’t really be releasing beryllium, especially next to an elementary school.

Metta Spencer  

And do they release it? Do they say it’s constant? Well, it has to get in and out of the container somehow. So where does it come from and what do they do with it? Where does it go to? Where do they send it? 

Zach Ruiter  

I’m not an expert on beryllium, because it’s a coating and lubricant between the zirconium fuel rods and the pellets. In that process, I mean, just anecdotally, the workers kind of – you know, I’ve heard this in nuclear facilities and in places that I’ve toured in United States and stuff like that – former workers will say there’s a death room in the facility. In Peterborough, in the nuclear operation of General Electric, which is now BWXT, the beryllium room is known as the death room, because it is so highly toxic.

Metta Spencer  

So that means don’t go in there or you die? — or a lot of people who’ve been near that that room have died? When you call it a “death room” what does that mean?

Zach Ruiter  

It means working there is associated with toxic exposures that can lead to and have led to long term terminal illness. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay. That’s a good enough warning for me. Anyway, I’m leading you off your narrative. Why don’t you go back to telling the story you want to tell?

Zach Ruiter  

So, in Toronto, people really didn’t know what this place does and they are releasing uranium up the stack into the air and down the drain. In 2009, they released 2.2 kilograms of uranium down into the Toronto stormwater sewer. And then we’ve seen flooding events afterwards. So basically, if it doesn’t make it out to Lake Ontario, uranium is a heavy particle, it’ll sink to the bottom of the sewer. And we’ve seen flooding events since then. So basically, the flooding events can kick that uranium back into the local environment and into the neighborhood. But I’m more concerned with the air exposure to the people living right there. Their lungs are inhaling and exhaling. And the company will say: Oh, the radiation that’s released from these stacks is so little compared to an X -ray or a pack of cigarettes or a flight from Montreal to Vancouver, but that’s measured in something called gamma radiation, which a long wave radiation. The chief concern with the inhalation of uranium particles from this plant and this operation is alpha radiation. Natural uranium is an alpha emitter, so that means it’s a very short wave. So, if you inhale one of those particles, it won’t penetrate the skin, but if you’ve got a cut or you inhale it, that can lodge in the lung or cross the blood-brain barrier and then it can kind of act like a little ember or a little radioactive disintegration. And the danger is, if you inhale that and it’s in you forever, that’s going to be disrupting the cells. If it kills the cells, that’s fine; but if it damages the cell and the cell replicates, that’s where you can induce cancer. But you could die of natural causes before that cancer metastasizes. So there’s no way of knowing what your cancer is from, but anecdotally, in that area in Toronto where there was PCB work and where there has been nuclear fuel processing since the 1950s, there’s a lot of cancer in that area. 

Metta Spencer  

You use the term PCB work. Can you explain that? 

Zach Ruiter  

They were working with PCBs for transistors, the sort of electric transistors that you see on poles and stuff like that. So, at General Electric in Toronto: on the east side of Lansdowne Avenue had the nuclear fuel operation and on the west side of Lansdowne Avenue they worked with PCBs for electric transistors and things like that.

Metta Spencer  

And that stuff is dangerous itself?

Zach Ruiter  

Yeah, it’s dangerous, but now that’s all been sort of taken away. The soil has been taken away and now there’s townhouses on that site.

Adam Wynne  

If we could maybe talk a bit more about the site history within the Toronto context, I think that’s a very interesting element that we should maybe delve into in a bit more detail. You mentioned the 1950s and the 1960s. When this plant opened in the 1950s and 1960s, the area surrounding it was largely industrial. As you mentioned, the sites across the street were also owned by General Electric and they made all sorts of different components there. In the present day, most of the industrial facilities in this neighbourhood have moved out of the area. The former industrial building just up the street – formerly a metal foundry – is now a multimillion-dollar redevelopment that has high end lofts. There’s a townhouse development across the street and as Zach mentioned they’re now doing soil excavation. I’ll show you some photographs.

[Adam Wynne put photograph of the BWXT Toronto plant on screenshare]. 

So, this grey-beige building here is the processing plant [at 1025 Lansdowne Avenue] and this site here across the street, which is presently a big hole in the ground is being prepared for a new residential development. Now, I’ll draw your attention to this brown building here. This high rise is 1011 Lansdowne Avenue. It’s one of the most notorious addresses in Toronto for emergency services. They generally have multiple emergency calls and also false alarms every week for fire, police, and ambulance. This can lead to alarm fatigue and desensitization of the residents to emergencies. The building’s management has also partnered with CAMH [The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] and UHN [University Health Network] to provide outpatient housing for clients of their schizophrenia programs and for others who are recovering from mental health challenges. It’s a very notorious building for all sorts of things, like drugs, prostitution, squatting, and violent crime. This building is immediately next to – and less than 100 meters – from this uranium plant. So, if there is a radiological accident, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to do any type of evacuation. 1011 Lansdowne Avenue was built in the 1970s. So even starting a few decades after this plant was opened, the area began to have development intensification into more residential uses. And now it’s almost entirely residential around the plant. I also want to draw your attention to the active rail corridor that’s located less than 15 meters from the plant. So, this is another concern. This rail corridor – which was put in during the 19th century – is only 15 meters from the uranium processing facility. 

Metta Spencer  

Is that a freight train or something there in the photograph? 

Adam Wynne  

Yes, it’s a freight train. There’s been at least two derailments in the past decade on this stretch of rail corridor within five kilometers of the BWXT plant. So, if you see here, this is another photo. This is a freight train going by the plant. I’ve heard that there’s also – maybe Zach could speak more to this – there’s also an external tank of something like 9000 gallons of hydrogen sitting outside this plant which is used in its industrial purposes. The rail corridor is now only 15 meters away from parts of the uranium processing facility. Now, the present-day guidelines in Toronto say that you have to build at least 30 meters away from the rail corridor and have a safety barrier or berm as to have a buffer zone if there’s a rail accident. This plant is only 15 meters. There’s no real safety barrier or berm other than a chain link fence. The plant has been grandfathered in from an era back when safety standards were laxer. Here’s another angle of the plant and I want to draw your attention again to this building on the left. That’s 1011 Lansdowne Avenue – the very notorious high-rise I mentioned earlier. Immediately across the street are 2 condos known that were built in the 2010s. These are 20-to-30 condominium towers. They did keep the base of the old factory and warehouse building, but then built on top of them. So, there’s an industrial heritage element where there’s now a grocery store and pharmacy, but this area that’s surrounding the plant is now almost entirely residential. This uranium processing facility is a relic from the mid-20th century and perhaps from even before then, when this area was largely General Electric lands and other industrial facilities. The industrial area – the former buildings, as I mentioned – are now residential and in other cases they have been turned into theaters, art galleries, and things like that. So, this plant is really a relic in the surrounding area in the Toronto context. I am not so familiar with the Peterborough context. I do know of the Prince of Wales Public School that you mentioned, which is across the street from the facility, but maybe we should talk a bit more about that. 

Zach Ruiter  

Wow. That was a really an excellent summary, Adam. That’s really good. I’ll just quickly mention – which may be of interest to Metta – BWXT is also a currently active nuclear weapons manufacturer. They work with ballistic missiles that come from submarines. They make casings for plutonium cores and pits and those plutonium pits are used in warheads and Trident missiles. They can kill millions of people as well. They also export some depleted uranium.

Metta Spencer  

My impression is that Canada has a rule that we don’t produce plutonium, uranium or any other fissile materials that are to be used in weapons.

Zach Ruiter  

That’s correct. So, this is BWXT US. That’s their operations in the United States. 

Metta Spencer  

But our stuff does not make its way into warheads, or does it? 

Zach Ruiter  

It’s unclear. BWXT – this company – for two weeks of the year processes fuel to be exported to the United States. Where that goes and what it’s used for is quote unquote: “proprietary commercial information.” So they’re not really willing to share what that uranium that they export to the United States is used for.

Metta Spencer  

If we have this principle that we don’t make stuff for nuclear warheads, then I mean, what you’re saying is, if I understand you: That we don’t know whether that’s being enforced or not. Is it a principle or is it a real treaty? What kind of teeth does this agreement have? Is it binding and how official is it? Or is it just a gentleman’s agreement kind of thing?

Zach Ruiter  

Yeah, I think it is. It’s sort of like how the Non-Proliferation Treaty is actually the vehicle for nuclear proliferation in the way that Canada loaned CANDU technology to India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan then renounced their membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on the eve of their test explosions. So, Toronto has a Peace Garden. We are calling ourselves a nuclear weapons free city, yet we have an active nuclear weapons manufacturer working with uranium. You know, back in the Iraq War, there was supposedly weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; but it turns out we have a huge stockpile of uranium in Toronto’s West End. But back to Adam’s questions. It was largely industrial, but there were also homes for workers in that area, predating the establishment of the General Electric campus. So you’re definitely right on that. There have been a lot of rumors over the years that surrounding buildings – even south of DuPont Street – are connected by way of tunnel and there was weapons development that went on there. But all of that is kept really kind of secretive.

Adam Wynne  

If I may build on that point a bit, regarding that kind of complex in the Dupont Street area. The infrastructure in that area is still World War 2 era in some cases. There certainly has been a recent increase in development in the area. However, I went over and took some photos a few months ago. You mentioned the sewers and how the facility has a permit to release uranium into the sewers. I think the facility’s release limit is 9000 kilograms of uranium into the Toronto sewer system each year, but Pippa Feinstein mentioned to me yesterday that that limit may have been recently reduced. If you look at the manhole cover underneath the BWXT sign right outside the Toronto plant, it has the date 1949 stamped on it.  While I am not entirely sure if the sewers have been fully updated, some of sewer infrastructure underneath this plant may still date to just after World War 2. If you walk around the outside of the plant, you’ll notice the retaining walls on the east side of the plant are damaged and need repair. There are also open drain holes on the north side of the plant along Brandon Avenue, which are next to the downspouts and date to when the downspouts used to connect directly to the sewer system. I have some photos here showing this. 

[Adam Wynne puts another photograph on screen via screen share.]

Adam Wynne  

This is just outside the uranium processing facility. If they are releasing uranium into the sewer system, that drain hole is venting immediately from the sewer system under the plant. As Zach mentioned, there’s also the risk of flooding with these sewers.  

[Adam Wynne changes photograph to a view looking south-east at the BWXT Toronto plant.]

Adam Wynne  

This red object in the foreground – diagonally opposite from BWXT – is a decades old fire line valve. Potentially from the wartime period. I asked municipal staff about it. It’s still not clear to me if it’s still connected to something or not. This large excavation is the residential development going in across the street. And I want to draw your attention to the bridge as well. Ann Frisch, about a year or so ago, sent me some materials about infrastructure and the transportation of radioactive materials. So, I previously mentioned this rail corridor that is only 15 meters from the plant. The rail bridge, which immediately abuts the corner of the facility, is from 1931. It is mere meters away from the BWXT facility. We know that the aging bridges on rail corridors are a major concern in both Canada and the United States because they are not maintained properly. Some bridges are crumbling. They can also be the target of terrorism incidents. If someone drives a truck into that and collapses the bridge, you can have a rail accident. Now I mentioned there were 2 derailments along this rail corridor in the past 10 years. Another thing to mull over is that this rail corridor is a major east-west corridor for the transportation of hazardous materials, including explosives and radiological materials. 

Zach Ruiter  

The Lac-Mégantic rail cars rolled right past the uranium plant and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. 

Adam Wynne  

That specific train went past the Toronto plant?

Zach Ruiter  

Yeah, and then exploded in Quebec. It was a terrible fracked gas, explosive disaster.

Adam Wynne  

From my understanding, for many years in Canada, the rail companies were not disclosing to the municipalities what was being transported on the rail corridors. The Toronto Star did an investigative piece where they stood on one of the bridges over this rail corridor for about a 12-hour period and took photos of all the hazardous material warning tags on the rail cars passing through Toronto. You can cross reference the numerical identifiers on the tags to an international database of hazardous materials. They found stuff like explosives, highly toxic pesticides, and in some cases radiological materials that are going through this rail corridor through the middle of downtown Toronto.  And as I mentioned, there’s been at least two derailments that have happened on this stretch of rail corridor in the past few years. Fortunately, neither were at the uranium processing plant, but one was just by Christie Street and the other near Bathurst Street. In one case the train had gone over the switch and the other train going the other way had not fully cleared the track and they collided. And in the other case, a train had 2 of its cars derail off the track. Another concerning thing is that people have cut holes in the rail corridor’s safety fence next to the BWXT facility, as to cross the tracks at Saint Clarens Avenue. They do not want to have to walk all the way around the plant to get to the other side of the tracks. So, they just cut holes in it and cross the tracks there. I do not want to be an alarmist, but this opens up a whole slew of concerns around safety and security of this plant. If you have people trespassing onto the rail corridor immediately next to the uranium processing plant, there’s a risk that someone could cause a derailment accidentally or otherwise. 

Metta Spencer  

I’m going to have nightmares tonight. I’m afraid. But thank you, go ahead. I’m a big girl. I’ll take it. I imagine the rest of us need to know this.

Zach Ruiter  

So yeah, that’s a concern. They’re not really willing to speculate on what would happen if there was an explosion of that hydrogen tank. Anecdotally, hydrogen explosions – like what has happened in Germany or something like that – have shown the capacity, potentially, to level the building. So, if you have 150 tons of uranium in power or pellet form, you have the possibility to make a huge dirty bomb there. I don’t like to speculate on this. It’s dangerous there. In 1999, they had a near disaster with a hydrogen explosion that resulted in a big fire in the stack. It resulted in an evacuation.

Adam Wynne  

Really? I had not heard of that specific incident. 

Zach Ruiter  

Yea. I can send you some links on that. Someone should file a Freedom of Information Request to get better details on what actually happened there. But the thing is, you’re cooking uranium 24/7 at 1650 degrees centigrade with a lot of propellant. That’s a lot of heat. They have cooling towers that are releasing vapour all the time. But they also have six stacks that release uranium into the air. So, the uranium that they release is really fine particles, like smaller than a hair. These are the particles that make it out of their filter. So, they have several sorts of carbon filters. And then they’re releasing it in six directions. So, if you’re living in one of those new condos or anywhere, you could be inhaling particles of uranium. Especially, if you it’s snowing, raining, or foggy and there’s lots of condensation, those particles are just hanging in the air. Yeah. So, you know, they’ll say: Oh, you know, we only release like, five grams a year. Like, first of all, when we had a meeting at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in 2013, I said: Well, how can we believe that you’re releasing only this much per year? They say: We have independent third parties that verify our testing results. And then I’d say: What’s the name of the independent third party? And then they’d say: That’s proprietary commercial information. So, there’s just all these cul-de-sacs. There are all these dead ends. But even if you take the numbers that they’re giving you, in every gram of uranium that release – in these microscopic, tasteless, odorless, sightless particles – are the tiniest particles. There are trillions of particles per gram. In Toronto, I live near the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. If the wind is blowing, south west from the factory, it smells like chocolate. In Peterborough, where I lived maybe a block away from General Electric, but five or six blocks over was the Quaker Oats factory. When the wind was going in that direction, it smelled like oatmeal. So, with uranium you can’t smell it; you can’t taste it; you can’t see it. It’s a silent killer. And it’s carcinogenic. It is a deadly, deadly toxin. And it’s not only carcinogenic, it’s heavy metal. So heavy metals are also dangerous, as well, for your liver and kidneys.

Metta Spencer 

Do they do anything valid, anything worthwhile with this stuff? 

Zach Ruiter  

I’d say no. It’s not all bad. I mean, the energy that we’re using right now is most likely coming from Pickering and Darlington, and they’re supplying all of the pellets that go to Pickering and Darlington. We’re using that right now. Their customers are Ontario Power Generation. So, this is really kind of collectively owned as a burden. You know, we’ve taken the benefits of this electricity, but now we’re saddled with over 50 years of the result, which is highly toxic and highly radioactive waste that has accumulated. It’s come through Toronto and gone through Pickering. It’s been mined in Dene and Cree territory. So not only have they created power for us, they’ve created a burden of this toxic legacy of this nuclear fuel waste, that they’re now trying to find a place to bury. And I think what we really need to say is: Before you can bury it, so that you can just keep on making more because you say you have the solution, is that we need to stop producing it. Full stop. 

Metta Spencer  

Which means stop nuclear power plants.

Zach Ruiter  

Stop nuclear power plants. Yeah. I mean, here’s where I get a little bit controversial. I’m not a proponent of green energy. I think that there are environmental tradeoffs there that I personally am not willing to make for any communities that are affected. So I think that we really need to, we really need to prioritize energy conservation. But I think we need to sort of reframe the logical sequence of how do we keep the lights on and save the planet? It’s always one then the other. Keeping the lights on and then save the planet. And I think if we reverse the order, in terms of the way we discuss our energy use, and the planet by saying: how do we save the planet and keep the lights on? But why don’t we save the planet before anything else? So even if that means turning off the lights, but I think that if that’s the impending threat of turning off the lights, we will find ways to adapt. So, when you reverse the order of: how do we keep the lights on and then as an afterthought save the planet? You’re always making tradeoffs. There’s some alarming statistics about covering the whole world with solar panels and windmills and all of these things. But when it comes down to it, I think that we need to shift the way we think of energy.

Metta Spencer  

Well, I know that I have a lot of conversations about this kind of thing, every week almost. And even a couple of days ago, one of the people I interviewed was saying that because of the expansion of technology, growth, and stuff around the world, there will be a need for three times as much electricity as we’re producing now. So, it is not just a matter of keeping the lights on, but turning on a lot more lights. And I don’t think that many people have the same concerns you do about the side effects of wind and solar. But that’s a different conversation. If you want to talk about that and talk about those negative effects, you can come back and be on a show with somebody who believes in it. It would be a good conversation because I haven’t heard anybody else say that there are as many negative side effects of renewable energy as there are from fossil fuels and nuclear.

Zach Ruiter  

Right. You know, I agree with that. But I think even if the climate concern were solved, I think that the problem is the amount of energy we’re using and what we are doing with that energy. And we really need to focus as a society not only on efficiency, but reductions and reducing the amount of energy we use.

Metta Spencer  

So, as I understand it, there’s a lot going on. There is a real move in the direction of conservation. Things are becoming more efficient. People are finding ways of doing things with less energy. So, in that sense, there is a reduction in the amount per whatever that you create, but the amount that you create is going to increase. So, we are actually going to need three times as much energy even if we do conserve. So that’s, you know, I’m not the expert here and this isn’t what we wanted to talk about today, so I think we need a different conversation, which we have that that discussion was somebody who knows more than I do. Or not. You’re welcome to be part of it. 

Zach Ruiter  

Thanks.  

Metta Spencer  

Go on. I keep side-tracking you. 

Adam Wynne  

Zach, I want to go back to one of your previous points. Specifically, the intergenerational connection of General Electric in Peterborough and how you said multiple families have been poisoned by the activities of General Electric in Peterborough. The CBC just did a documentary on this within the past year or two called Town of Widows which documented the levels of cancer and illnesses of former workers at the General Electric plant. In some case, there’s reports of General Electric workers who worked with asbestos coming home and their wives would shake out their work clothes and asbestos would come raining down from the clothing. What is the public opinion of these type of activities in the Peterborough context? Is there any resistance? Peterborough has been described as a company town at times, particularly around and just after the wartime period and its legacy with the activities of General Electric and Quaker Oats. There were a few very large companies that many, many people in the city worked for. Was there resistance to recognize the activities and danger of this kind of work? What type of reactions came from the public in Peterborough? 

Zach Ruiter  

It is. So, notwithstanding this company has been proven to have poisoned workers and families and it’s well known. Not only that, but they’re wanting to move the Toronto facility from Toronto to Peterborough. Possibly because the development going on around the Toronto facility is massive. Davenport Village has another 3000 units. Condos right across the street. But, because the Pickering nuclear station is going to be going offline, hopefully sooner rather than later, but it’s going offline in a few years, they’re going to be losing half of their market. So right now, they’re producing half of all uranium using Canadian reactors, but they’re going to be only making half of that. So, a quarter. BWXT is heavily invested in developing the next generation of small modular nuclear reactors. A new breed of nuclear reactors, which, Libbe HaLevy has called “mobile Chernobyl” because there’s going to be these small reactors all over the place, because the public’s largely against building new reactors. These reactors run on enriched uranium. So, there’s precedent to show that company in that site in Peterborough has already worked with some enriched uranium and has already tried to work with enriched uranium. The huge speculation is that they’re not just going to be working with natural uranium for CANDU reactors, but they’re going to want to use that site in Peterborough for enriched uranium. Sometimes they have acronyms like low enriched uranium or slightly enriched uranium, but these are just euphemisms for enriched uranium. So, the public is divided. So, the public is really divided right now. There’s a group called CARN – Citizens Against Radioactive Neighborhoods – that are fighting it. They’re taking the Nuclear Safety Commission to federal court right now to review the decision. But they’re taking the CNSC and BWXT to court, largely over a technicality. That technicality is that under the Nuclear Safety Control Act, there was a requirement for the license fulfillment, that they submit their site plan and their detailed environmental monitoring plans. But they didn’t release those detailed environmental monitoring plans, because of possibly sensitive and potentially damaging information. And that information might be able to tip their hand and reveal if they’re planning on not just building the facility for relocating the Toronto factory, but also outfitting themselves to be processing enriched uranium as a separate process there. There is other sort of anecdotal points in terms of why that might be happening. CARN – Citizens Against Radioactive Neighborhoods – has been seeing a lot of website traffic from places in the United States that are associated with developers of small modular nuclear reactors, such as the NuScale and also a lot from Lynchburg, Virginia which is where BWXT is based. So, I think that they’re really kind of looking for a home for this. And because they already sort of have a site in Peterborough, I guess they think it might be easier to place it there and then trying to place it somewhere where they have not grandfathered in an operation.

Metta Spencer  

So, the plant in Peterborough would just expand? They wouldn’t move it to someplace out in the country.

Zach Ruiter  

No. For now, they’re not doing that. They’re constantly shifting the goalposts. They’re wanting to expand the current operation to bring the pelleting operation or the fuel fabrication operation. And the speculation is that they’re going to want to also then fabricate enriched uranium fuel.

Metta Spencer  

Can you tell me what are the procedures and what are the hoops that they have to jump through to get permission to make these changes? And are these additional safety inquiries or public testimony events? Where are the things that you’re trying to intervene? How do you foresee you or Adam or the people watching this could take part in a discussion of whether to allow this?

Zach Ruiter  

Well, I’ll be only working in my capacity as a journalist and sharing information. If they want to go ahead with this, it’s – as the past has shown – simply just a license amendment that would be required. And of course, they’ll say that everything is safe and that they’re trustworthy. In the United States, where they’re co-operator of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, BWXT is now named as a co-defendant in several class action lawsuits over the contamination of a local school in Piketon, Ohio called Zahn’s Corner Middle School where they had to actually shut down the school because of the amount of uranium and other radioactive toxins discovered on the school and where several students over the past few years have died of cancer. So, in terms of the fight to stop it, you know, I think that CARN has really – with the assistance of CELA, the Canadian Environmental Law Association – jumped through the hoops. They’ve really dotted there Is and cross their Ts. It comes down to political will, because the client for this company is the Canadian government. It’s the Ontario and federal governments. And the local MP Maryam Monsef has been very reticent to say anything. The mayor of Peterborough – Diane Therrien – has kind of spoken out of both sides of her mouth. So, she says she’s concerned, but she’s been assured that it’s safe. But really the group in Peterborough is really a polite group. I mean, they’re calling themselves Citizens Against Radioactive Neighborhoods. They participate in Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearings. They’ve held some pickets, but in the absence of direct action and increasing public pressure, I really don’t see how they’re going to stop this company from incrementally increasing their toxic load on the local neighborhood and the kids in the elementary school. It’s not just the kids that are more radio-sensitive to radiation than adults. It’s the entire town. That facility is located right downtown, in the middle of town. 

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, well, it sounds to me as if the lynchpin is the notion that there’s a certain definition of what is the safe amount of radiation. How much can safely endure? I guess they know that every bit of radiation has some risk and can maybe harm you, but that we just have to live with a certain amount because in nature, it occurs. So, I wonder, how much can be done to question that or even whether we should question it? Maybe we should believe them, maybe we should say: Okay, you think that I should except a certain amount of radiation in my life. So I will do it. And so, let’s go on and talk about other matters. I’m a little uncomfortable about that. Is there anything that we can do to kind of challenge that or at least take it seriously and not just simply believe what we are told? 

Adam Wynne  

If I may add a point. How accessible is this information? In the Toronto context of the BWXT plant – for many years before the facility was purchased by BWXT in 2016 – it was operated by General Electric, as you mentioned. And for many years, the Toronto plant was classified as a ceramics factory. It was not until a 1986 municipal bylaw probe that it actually came to light that the plant was not actually manufacturing ceramics in the sense of what most people would interpret that as, but the type of nuclear products that the plant was manufacturing may have been considered ceramics under a technicality. So, one of my questions, building on what Metta is saying, is how accessible and how clear is the public’s information about the safe limits? Another thing with the Toronto context, is that the release limit of 9000 kilograms of uranium into the sewers sounds absolutely absurd. What is meant by that? There’s often a lot of highly technical language in the reports. How accessible is it for a member of the public to go and read one of these documents and know what they are referring to and what are the actual meanings of the safe limits? 

Zach Ruiter  

It’s completely inaccessible. It’s a rubber stamp. The 9000-kilogram release to the sewer allowable for per year, is calculated based on a dose of 1 millisievert per year to a human body of the public. There are different limits for workers. Workers are technically allowed to be exposed to even more radiation. This is all creative accounting. This is all fun with decimals. It’s all manipulating graphs and charts to minimize the fact that half of all nuclear fuel used in Canadian reactors is cooked in a process that releases it to the environment. And also, when we look at it as a hyperlocal issue, it’s problematic, but when we look at it as a global issue, it’s problematic. From mining to waste. How accessible is the information? It’s not. You know, a Geiger counter isn’t really going to test for it, because Geiger counters are measuring gamma radiation. So, unless you have very, very expensive equipment, you’re not really as a citizen going to be able to show or prove what’s going on there. But I think that we can continue asking for transparency and we can continue demanding. This is where the fight kind of goes more into the area of a social license. Is this company trustworthy? No. Have they heavily been caught lying to the public and the regulator? Yes. Have they been named in class action lawsuits for contaminating and killing children in an elementary school? Yes. There is not a deficit of reasons to not use the precautionary principle here to say that there isn’t a risk that outweighs the benefit to the public. So argumentatively, why does it have to be next to an elementary school? Or why anywhere at all? But if you really get down into the weeds of it, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is a quasi-judicial tribunal. They’re the poster child of industry capture. There was, I believe, a poll of federal scientists about five years ago. That asked them: Do you feel like you can speak without being censored and you can share your results? CNSC had, I think, a resounding majority of their own scientists saying that they felt muzzled. That their work was either changed and they couldn’t be transparent about their information. And that’s not just for these nuclear fuel processing facilities. It’s for nuclear reactors. It’s for uranium mines. The Pickering nuclear reactor, you know, we hear lots of information and lots of public information has just come to light about how they’re basically guesstimating how safe are these pressure tubes on a reactor that is so many years past it’s expected like design and they’re not even going to replace the tubes. So, they’re really risking everything for their own benefit. Pickering is one of the closest reactors to a major metropolitan center. This industry has always been known for playing fast with people’s health and safety and the environment. I think there’s more than enough reasons to say why they can’t be trusted. And back to Metta’s points. Okay, yes, there is natural background radiation and that is dangerous. Radon gas is dangerous. Radiation is dangerous. We shouldn’t be adding any more. But there’s a difference between background radiation. You’re not inhaling background radiation. You might be if you’re exposed to radon coming from underground in a basement. And that’s why we have radon testing. But inhaling particles of uranium directly into those sensitive tissue and especially for the kids who are radiosensitive because their cells are multiplying all the time. But if you actually look at like smoking cigarettes or arsenic, there is no safe level. So, there’s no good argument for exposing all these people. The argument for it is really to turn Peterborough or continue to make Toronto into a sacrificial zone, in the name of nuclear power. We’re constantly being bombarded with the idea that it’s clean and that it’s a solution to climate change. Which I argue that it isn’t. It’s neither clean nor is it a solution to climate change. 

Metta Spencer  

You’ve come to the right person, if you want to make that case. I agree with it. I’m predisposed to say let’s do something else. Absolutely, yes.  

Adam Wynne  

I want to bridge to a broader issue within multiple communities regarding the Canadian nuclear industry. And that’s the accessibility of information within a language context. I don’t know if you are following the ongoing CNSC hearings [on nuclear waste] right now, but there’s been a lot of outcries from Canada’s Francophone community. The CNSC offered to provide live interpretation of proceedings and materials in French, but then allegedly only provided it in English.  I want to ask within the BWXT context, are materials being made available in both English and French, but then also other neighbourhood languages? In Toronto – and this may be relevant in Peterborough too – the Canadian Census shows the residents in the area surrounding the plant speak a diverse range of languages as their predominant household language, including English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Tagalog. Many different languages. Some of these residents may not be able to participate in proceedings or read highly technical reports that are being conducted solely in English. Are any attempts being made to make this material available in both of Canada’s official languages – as well as other neighbourhood languages? 

Zach Ruiter  

No. All of their attempts are to suppress information and to minimize the information that gets out. So, the information that they distribute even now, basically, even in English is substandard. In English, it basically just says: We’re your neighbor, everything is fine, nothing to worry about. And then they may translate that paragraph into French. No, it’s not translated into Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, and some of the languages that a lot of people, especially people who’ve been there for decades, speak as a primary language. But even in terms of the language of the English communications, the English communications are always just to say that we are regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. We have thorough inspections by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and it’s shown that there’s no risk to public health of the environment. That’s their communication. But before that their communication was nil. People did not even know it was there. The nuclear industry operates on the less information the public knows the better for them, because they think the nuclear industry is unfairly stigmatized. I would argue that when the public finds out more information, it’s just more cause for concerns and leads to more questions that they’re not usually able to answer without the appeal to the rubber stamp of their own authority to say that everything’s within safe levels.

Metta Spencer  

Well, you are doing really heroic work as a journalist addressing these issues. So, bless your heart and carry on. And maybe we need to keep in touch. 

Zach Ruiter  

Thank you. 

Metta Spencer  

Thank you so much for this. It’s been fascinating. Good luck. 

Stop Nuclear Contamination

Contact

Contact: Dr. Richard Denton, rdenton@nosm.ca
33 Ursa Court, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 6B8 . Phone: 249-360-5324
Co-Chair North America International Physicians For Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) (Nobel Peace Prize 1985) and associated with Int’l Campaign Against Nuclear weapons (ICAN winner of 2017 Nobel Peace Prize)

Past President, Physicians for Global Survival, now IPPNW Canada

Because of our concern for global health, we are committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons, the prevention of war, the promotion of nonviolent means of conflict resolution and social justice in a sustainable world. Many people, animals, and plants all over the world have been exposed to harmful radiation. As for numbers, accurate statistics have not been compiled. However, all victims and concerned members of the public may benefit from comparing experiences, and this is the place for such communication. If you have information that should be shared widely about the health and environmental consequences of exposure to radioactive contamination, you are welcome to post it here. And please check this page occasionally to keep up to date with ongoing events. Radioactivity is not a thing of the past. It will never be.

See these organizations:

http://nuclearhotseat.com/
https://nuclear-news.net/
 http://stop-u238.blogspot.com.au/
  http://www.wiseinternational.org/node/36 
http://www.sortirdunucleaire.org/reacteur-Astrid 
http://nf2045.blogspot.jp/2014/05/long-night-of-living-dead-superphenix.html
http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/-2013-.html
http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/-2013-.html

#Rotarians4Ban

@Rotarians4NuclearBan

RAGfPNukeFreePlanet

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World BEYOND War

Contact:

Greta Zarro greta@worldbeyondwar.org

Allied Groups or Campaigns:

Mission:

Founded in 2014, World BEYOND War is a global grassroots network of volunteers, activists, and allied organizations advocating for the abolition of war. We work to advance the idea of not just preventing any particular war but abolishing the entire institution. Instead, we call for an alternative global security system based on peace, nonviolence, and demilitarization.

While public opinion has moved against war, we intend to seize this moment to crystallize that opinion into a movement that spreads awareness that war can be ended, that its ending is hugely popular, that war should be ended as it endangers rather than protects, and that there are steps we can and must take to move toward war’s reduction and abolition.

Our work debunks the myths that war is inevitable, just, necessary, or beneficial. Our peace education program lays out the strategies needed to demilitarize security, manage conflict nonviolently, and cultivate a culture of peace. World BEYOND War’s grassroots-led activist campaigns are centered around weapons divestment and closing military bases around the world. Our offerings include books, online courses, webinars, podcasts, mapping militarism charts, the peace almanac, Study War No More study & action guide, fact sheets, conferences, trainings, and much more.

People in 175 countries have signed World BEYOND War’s Declaration of Peace. Add your name. Find a local chapter near you, or start your own. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Our success is driven by a people-powered movement. Sign up as a monthly sustainer to support our work for a culture of peace.

After you have read this introduction, click the blue “View Coming Events” calendar button and you may find opportunities to participate in saving our world. If your group is planning a relevant event, we welcome your contribution to the calendar.

And join the discussion! Please wait a few seconds for the comments to load at the bottom of this page. Then read the ideas other people have shared and reply or add your own knowledge. Thanks!

Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS)

Contact information:

Website: gcoms.org (also demilitarize.org one is redirected to the other)
Contact person(s): Jordi Calvo and Quique Sánchez at coordination.gcoms@ipb.org
Social media: Facebook   Twitter   Instagram
Other websites of reference:

Mission:

The Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS) is a year-round international campaign founded in December 2014 and promoted by the International Peace Bureau after the success of the Global Days of Action (GDAMS), that have been an annual occurrence since 2011.

The main goal of the campaign is to raise awareness and change the discourse regarding military spending as a means to achieve major reductions of military expenditures all around the world.

Most people would agree that warmongering and arms racing make of the world an increasingly dangerous place, but this has yet to become a major item of political discourse and agenda. Militarization is accelerating at an alarming rate at a time when it should be drastically reduced in order to tackle the grave challenges humanity is facing. Most countries in the world are diverting huge amounts of resources to the military sector, leaving basic needs such as food, health, education or employment, or environmental emergencies like global warming, dramatically under-funded. Global military spending amounted to $1,82 trillion in 2018, a figure that does not respond to human needs nor security and that could instead be used to implement comprehensive programmes such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, grave challenges as though climate change, migrations and inequality are not only being neglected, but they’re receiving an increasingly militarised response. Pressure to spend more and more taxpayers money on weapons systems and warfare is therefore growing.

GCOMS is confronting all this through the cooperative efforts of peace groups around the globe, fostering synergies among them both regionally and internationally, in order to gradually strengthen the global movement challenging war and militarism.

There are different ways people can get involved with GCOMS, and both groups and individuals working for peace are more than welcome to join the campaign.

Although actions and events take place all year round, the most active period is the GDAMS, when more than a hundred actions are carried out in over 30 countries of all 5 continents. Each peace group contributes with their own strategy and approach, depending on their means, vision and context, all this resulting in a wide range of actions, which include street protests/demonstrations, seminars, press conferences, joint statements, interviews, workshops, stalls, leafleting, petitions, letters, peace vigils, penny polls, school rallies or online campaigning.

You can find out more about our partners here, and on how to get involved here.

After you have read this introduction, click the blue “View Coming Events” calendar button and you may find opportunities to participate in saving our world. If your group is planning a relevant event, we welcome your contribution to the calendar.
And join the discussion! Please wait a few seconds for the comments to load at the bottom of this page. Then read the ideas other people have shared and reply or add your own knowledge. Thanks!

A “Trillion Tree Campaign: The Plant-for-the-Planet App”

Contact:

Verena Weber verena.weber@plant-for-the-planet.org
Support: support@trilliontreecampaign.org

https://www.trilliontreecampaign.org/
https://www.facebook.com/plantfortheplanet/
https://www.instagram.com/plantfortheplanet_official/
https://twitter.com/PftP_int
https://www.youtube.com/PlantForThePlanet

Related Groups and Projects:

Mission:

The current goal of the children and youth initiative is to plant a trillion trees worldwide. Trees are the cheapest and most effective means of binding CO2, allowing us more time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero and mitigate the climate crisis.

In 2011, the UN Environment handed over the Billion Tree Campaign, along with the official world tree counter, to the youth-led Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation. As the children’s aim is now to plant a trillion trees, they transformed the Billion Tree Campaign into the Trillion Tree Campaign and developed an interactive online tool that motivates others to get involved in planting: https://weplant.app

For the first time ever, some of the best community-led tree planting projects from 20+ countries have come together to deliver a massive boost to the world’s reforestation efforts. Now, with the Plant-for-the-Planet App, everyone can plant trees worldwide with just a few clicks. 100 per cent of the money raised goes directly to the tree planters.

Greta Thunberg said: “It is simple. We need to protect, re-store and fund nature.” The new Plant for the Planet App allows you to do just that. For just €3, you can plant a tree in Brazil. For just €100, you can plant 1,000 trees and help restore the landscape of Indonesia.

You don’t have a sapling at hand? Or want to avoid getting dirt under your fingernails? The Plant-for-the-Planet App is your way to help nature recover by selecting from 50 hand-selected reforestation projects from developing countries. The benefits of tree planting are not just for nature, they are also a vital source of income for poor communities. Many more projects are coming.

Just select your favourite project. Donate. The trees are planted for you. No excuses. Each tree adds to the World Tree Counter.

The app was built over two years by seven young people from Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation under the leadership of Sagar Aryal (24), who has been planting trees with Plant-for-the-Planet for over 10 years, as one of 81,000 children and youth from 73 countries.

The Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation aimed to plant 100 million trees by 2030 through their project in the Yucatan-Peninsula. But they realised that 10,000 projects of that size are necessary to restore a trillion trees, and therefore decided to focus on sharing their tools with a multitude of other projects to help them scale up their work – that’s what this app is about. There are no fees or costs for donors, tree-planting NGOs or anyone else. This app helps to implement the excellent goals of the Bonn Challenge – a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030 – by creating a positive chain reaction. More than 10,000 people signed up to the app in the development phase.

This project could not have happened without the advice, guidance and support of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

About Plant-for-the-Planet

The Plant-for-the-Planet children and youth initiative was launched in January 2007 after Wangari Maathai and the UNEP had called to action via the Billion Tree Campaign. At the end of his school presentation about the current climate crisis, nine-year-old Felix Finkbeiner announced his vision to his classmates: “Let’s plant one million trees in every country on earth!”

So far, more than 13 billion trees in 193 countries have been planted. The children of Plant-for-the-Planet teach and empower others to become Climate Justice Ambassadors. More than 81,000 children from 73 countries are already participating.

On the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, Plant-for-the-Planet plants a tree every 15 seconds. This project demonstrates just how easy it is to make planting trees so effective on a large scale. The initiative uses its own products (i.e. The Change Chocolate) and campaigns (such as “Stop talking. Start planting.”) in order to plant trees and motivate others to get involved in planting.

Why a trillion trees? this).

After you have read this introduction, click the blue “View Coming Events” calendar button and you may find opportunities to participate in saving our world. If your group is planning a relevant event, we welcome your contribution to the calendar.
And join the discussion! Please wait a few seconds for the comments to load at the bottom of this page. Then read the ideas other people have shared and reply or add your own knowledge. Thanks!

Climate Strike Canada


Website:

https://climatestrikecanada.org/en/home

Contact:

Genevieve Langille (Student Activist in London, Ontario)   genvlangille@gmail.com

Related Groups:

Mission:

Climate Strike Canada is a national network of Canadian students that organizes protests to demand climate action. This is the link to their website: Climate Strike Canada where you can find their demands.

The students in Canada are inspired by the numerous First Nations, Métis, and Inuit climate activists who have been voicing their concerns for much longer. The Climate Strike Canada movement is based around the Fridays For Future movement started by Greta Thunberg, the sixteen year old from Sweden, who was nominated for a Nobel prize for her work protesting international inaction on the current climate crisis. Other chapters of climate protest networks exist in almost every country in the world and they can be found through 350.org.

Students and citizens are mobilizing across the world to demand systematic change that deals with the imminence of the climate crisis and to demand politicians ratify policies that effect real change. They believe this is their only hope for a future.

After you have read this introduction, click the blue “View Coming Events” calendar button and you may find opportunities to participate in saving our world. If your group is planning a relevant event, we welcome your contribution to the calendar.

And join the discussion! Please wait a few seconds for the comments to load at the bottom of this page. Then read the ideas other people have shared and reply or add your own knowledge. Thanks!

Go 100% Renewable!


Contact person:

Angela Bischoff, Outreach Director, Ontario Clean Air Alliance
http://www.cleanairalliance.org/the-future-is-renewable/

Other allied projects or groups:

• Go Fossil Free (sponsored by 350.org) https://gofossilfree.org/register-an-existing-campaign-or-group/

• Global 100% Renewable Energy Campaign (International Solar Energy Society)      https://www.ises.org/content/global-100-renewable-energy-campaign

Mission:

We’re calling for Ontario to be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030. We were formed in 1997 to call for a 100 percent coal phase out for Ontario. After winning that battle, we turned our attention to phasing out Ontario’s nuclear fleet when it comes to the end of its life. That means shuttering Pickering no later than 2018 when its current licence expires, followed by immediate decommissioning, and closing the Darlington and Bruce units when their current licences expire rather than sinking tens of billions of dollars into rebuilding them, locking us into high-cost, high-risk nuclear for another four decades. We have lower cost, lower emission and less risky renewable options, including water-power from Quebec, conservation, wind, solar, biomass, and biogas.

On the home page click the blue button to see our events calendar, where you may find opportunities in your area to participate in saving our world.
And please wait a few seconds for the comments to load below. Then read the ideas other people have shared and reply or add your own knowledge. Thanks!

Promote One Health Initiatives!

One Health Initiative

http://www.onehealthinitiative.com
https://www.onehealthcommission.org/

Contact:

Laura Kahn | lkahn@Princeton.edu

Some Allied Projects and Groups:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/

World One Health Congress
https://www.onehealthplatform.com/

International Student One Health Alliance
https://www.onehealthplatform.com/

and Facebook: ISOHA One Health Community

On One Health Approaches:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/OneHealthApproachesForCorePublicHealthFunctions/

There are three global One Health groups leading the One Health Charge. The One Health Commission (Dr. Cheryl Stroud) the One Health Initiative pro bono group (Dr. Bruce Kaplan and Dr. Laura Kahn) and the One Health Platform.

These 3 groups joined forces in 2016 to launch a global One Health Day that is officially recognized on Nov 3. However, events educating about One Health and One Health issues can be held any time of the year. Event organizers are urged to ‘register‘ their events to get them on the map.

January 2020 is currently being celebrated as One Health Awareness Month. Advocates are urged to post daily One Health messages in the One Health Awareness Month Social Media Campaign.

Mission:

The One Health concept is a worldwide strategy for expanding interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment. The synergism achieved will advance health care for the 21st century and beyond by accelerating biomedical research discoveries, enhancing public health efficacy, expeditiously expanding the scientific knowledge base, and improving medical education and clinical care. When properly implemented, it will help protect and save untold millions of lives in our present and future generations.

One Health is dedicated to improving the lives of all species—human and animal—through the integration of human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental science.

One Health shall be achieved through:

  1. Joint educational efforts between human medical, veterinary medical schools, and schools of public health and the environment;
  2. Joint communication efforts in journals, at conferences, and via allied health networks;
  3. Joint efforts in clinical care through the assessment, treatment and prevention of cross-species disease transmission;
  4. Joint cross-species disease surveillance and control efforts in public health;
  5. Joint efforts in better understanding of cross-species disease transmission through comparative medicine and environmental research;
  6. Joint efforts in the development and evaluation of new diagnostic methods, medicines and vaccines for the prevention and control of diseases across species and;
  7. Joint efforts to inform and educate political leaders and the public sector through accurate media publications.

After you have read this introduction, click the blue “View Coming Events” calendar button and you may find opportunities to participate in saving our world. If your group is planning a relevant event, we welcome your contribution to the calendar.

And join the discussion! Please wait a few seconds for the comments to load at the bottom of this page. Then read the ideas other people have shared and reply or add your own knowledge. Thanks!

Move the Nuclear Weapons Money

Contact:

Move the Nuclear Weapons Money
www.nuclearweaponsmoney.org
info@nuclearweaponsmoney.org

Other Related Projects and Groups:

Divest from the War Machine:
www.divestfromwarmachine.org

Divest/Invest
www.divestinvest.org

CalSTRS: Divest from General Dynamics
https://www.codepink.org/calstrs

Don’t Bank on the Bomb
https://www.dontbankonthebomb.com/take-action-for-divestment/public/

National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee
https://nwtrcc.org/programs-events/action-ideas/divest-war-invest-people/

Mission:

One trillion dollars is being spent to modernize the nuclear arsenals of nine countries over the next 10 years. This money could instead be used to help end poverty, protect the climate, build global peace and achieve the sustainable development goals.

Help us move the nuclear weapons money to better purposes! Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign is promoting cuts in nuclear weapons budgets, divestment from the nuclear weapons industry, and reallocation of these budgets and investments to support peace, climate and the sustainable development goals. Partner organizations hold similar campaigns on divestment from fossil fuels and conventional weapons industries.

The anti-nuclear weapons campaign has been boosted by the UN Global Compact adding nuclear weapons to its list of excluded investments, and the UN Human Rights Committee adopting General Comment 36, which affirms that the threat or use of nuclear weapons violates the Right to Life. Activists are also referring to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (‘Ban Treaty’) and the International Court of Justice 1996 nuclear weapons case to convince their cities, universities, governments, pension funds and banks to end their investments in nuclear weapons.

Move the Nuclear Weapons Money is also organising public actions such as Count the Nuclear Weapons Money. While governments met at the United Nations for United Nations Disarmament Week and the UN General Assembly, Oct 24-30, 2019, we counted the money by hand— $100 million per minute in $1 million dollar notes, in front of the United Nations and at other publicly visible places in New York City. Counting took seven days and nights. Teams included people of all ages, nations, backgrounds; celebrities, activists, politicians, UN officials, diplomats, artists, religious leaders, sportspeople, refugees and others. Contact us for future activities.

Global Projects

Welcome to Global Projects!

Saving the world involves solving a lot of different problems at the same time —
so there are enough problems to go around.  Pick yours!

Below you will find a list of projects or campaigns that aim to accomplish an important specific, measurable goal. Click on one that interests you, and you’ll find an introduction to the plan, the name of a contact person, possibly a list of some other groups working on the same issue, and a column for comments and discussions. Do join a conversation and share the work.

Global Town Halls

On the last Sunday of every month, we host one-hour conversation via Zoom videoconference about our various projects (unless there is a major holiday or some other good reason). From 2:00–4:00 pm Eastern Time (in Toronto) you are invited to sit at your webcam wherever you are in the world and follow these instructions:

New Zoom Users:

  1. Ensure that your computer has a functional microphone and webcam, and that there is good lighting on your face.
  2. Join the videoconference at this link: https://zoom.us/j/9108970203
  3. You may be prompted to download a Zoom installer. Just follow the prompts on screen and Zoom should open.
  4. After the installation finishes, click the above link again and it will automatically direct you to the video conference.

Returning Users:

Video conference URL: https://zoom.us/j/9108970203
Meeting ID: 9108970203

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  1. On your iOS mobile device, launch Apple’s Podcast app. Review
  2. Tap the Search tab in the lower right corner of the screen.
  3. Enter the name of the podcast you want to rate or review (in our case, this is projectsavetheworld’s podcast). Tap the blue “Search” key at the bottom right (which looks like a magnifying glass) or tap the podcast name on the drop-down list.
  4. Tap the album art for the podcast (our logo of hands holding the world).
  5. Tap the Reviews tab, then scroll down to near the bottom of the screen.
  6. Tap “Write a review”.
  7. If you are not already signed into iTunes, you will be asked to enter your iTunes/Apple password to login.
  8. Tap the Stars to leave a rating.
  9. Enter a title for your review in the small box, then type your review in the larger content box. A single sentence is enough.
  10. Tap Send.

Podcast Feed

Here is a list of audio podcasts, all of which are based on the weekly video chats which began in April 2018. Click on the large black arrow (from the list below) to open a show, or visit as many shows as you wish at projectsavetheworld.libsyn.com.
Podcasts are shown in batches of up to 40 shows; look for a numbered ‘pages’ button at the end of the current page if you plan to choose an earlier show.
 

Episode 310: China’s Nuclear Ambitions (video)


Matthew Korda works at the Federation of American Scientists. Recently he discovered sites in China where hundreds of missile silos are being constructed. At https://tosavetheworld.ca you can search for Korda’s name, watch the video or listen to it as podcast, then scroll down to post a comment. If someone replies, we will let you know.
 

Episode 309: Youthful Activism (video)


Kehkashan Basu, Andrew Kim, and Rebecca Wolf Gage are young activists working to save the world from catastrophe. They discuss their generation’s views. Watch this on our website https://tosavetheworld.ca/309-youthful-activism/#video, then scroll down a bit to post your comment.
 

Episode 308: Peacebuilding in Afghanistan? (video)


Tony Jenkins, Doug Saunders, Olivia Ward, and Adam Wynne are all concerned to find possible alternatives to the probable future of continuing war in Afghanistan. Watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, https://tosavetheworld.ca/308-peacebuilding-in-afghanistan/#video, then scroll down a bit to post to the comment column.
 

Episode 307: Post-Covid World (video)


Alexander Likhotal is Mikhail Gorbachev’s adviser and spokesperson, He also teaches international affairs in Geneva and works on a post-Covid committee. Watch this (or listen as an audio podcast) on our website, then scroll down to discuss: https://tosavetheworld.ca/307-post-covid-world/#video.
 

Episode 306: Cows (video)


Mitloehner studies the emissions of methane from cows. There are now food additives that can reduce it up to 50%. Efficiency of meat production is crucial.
 

Episode 305: News from Project Save the World (video)


Metta Spencer and Adam Wynne bring viewers up to date about changes going on in Project Save the World and invite you to a birthday party!
 

Episode 304: Refugees (video)


Lloyd Axworthy, formerly Canada’s foreign minister, now heads an organization with great plans for reforming the world’s management of refugees. Watch this (or listen to it as audio podcast) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca. Search for “Axworthy” and you’ll see a clickable link where you can post ideas or reply to others.
 

Episode 303: Asia in the World (video)


Jill Carr Harris, Ellen Judd, and David Webster all are scholars familiar with Asian societies. Jill and David, more than Ellen, see China as a risk to peace. You can watch this (or listen to it as an audio podcast) on our website -– https://tosavetheworld.ca. Then search for the name of one panelist. A clickable list of his/her shows will appear, and you can join the discussion by posting to the comments column.
 

Episode 302: Pakistan’s Neighborhood (video)


Pervez Hoodbhoy is a Pakistani nuclear physicist, but this chat is about the various tribal and political groups involved in Pakistan’s dealings with Afghanistan.
 

Episode 301: Taxing Wealth (video)


Angella MacEwen is an economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. She favors taxing wealth and corporate capital gains.
 

Episode 300: Protecting Civilians in War Zones (video)


Timothy Donais describes the difficulty of the UN’s protecting of civilians in enclaves in African conflict zones, such as Mali, Congo, and South Sudan.
 

Episode 299: Today’s Global Disputes (video)


Maria Puerta, James Ranney, Doug Saunders, and Robert Schaeffer discuss the conflicts in Latin America, with China, and whether arbitration can work.
 

Episode 298: Sustainable Energy (video)


Mark Winfield directs a York University program in sustainable energy. We talk about it and affordable alternatives (i.e. not nuclear), and the politics of adopting it in time.
 

Episode 296: Nationalism (video)


Retired peace professors Nigel Young and Lawrence Wittner disagree as to whether nationalism is diminishing around the world, and if so, why.
 

Episode 295: Chimneys for Cold Water (video)


Peter Wadhams and Paul Beckwith say that thermohaline currents distribute heat around the world, starting from “chimneys” that pour cold water down the oceans.

Episode 294: Russia is Waiting (video)


Victor Kogan Yasny is a political analyst with Yabloko Party. He says that young Russians are aligned with Putin because they know nothing else.
 

Episode 293: Is Nuclear Winning? (video)


M.V. Ramana and Susan O’Donnell work on nuclear risks. Both seriously dispute statements Doug Saunders made in a column about Fukushima.
 

Episode 292: TV Dramas to Save the World (video)


William Ryerson and Richard Stratton both produce TV serial dramas. Ryerson’s shows are designed to influence the public opinion and behaviour of cultures.
 

Episode 291: Can Tourism be Sustainable? (video)


Edward Manning’s job is to help localities negotiate with travel agencies to develop into destinations where tourists will protect the culture and environs. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, https://tosavetheworld.ca/291-can-tourism-be-sustainable. Then discuss by scrolling down a bit to the comments column.
 

Episode 290: Extinction (video)


Peter Ward is an expert on extinction events.He and Paul Werbos worry that global warming may calm and stratify the oceans, leading to hydrogen sulfide poisoning. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, https://tosavetheworld.ca/290-extinction. To discuss, just scroll down a bit.
 

Episode 289: Why Can’t Nuclear Power be Safe? (video)


Gregory Jaczko headed the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission under Obama. He found that lobbyists’ political pressures make it impossible to keep nukes safe. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/289-why-cant-nuclear-power-be-safe/#comments
 

Episode 288: Afghanistan and Nonproliferation (video)


The Afghanistan war has changed quckly since the US and Nato troops wirhdrew. We discuss the likely domination of the Taliban before addressing the NPT review conference. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Episode 287: India’s Agriculture Policies 1 (video)


Richa Kumar, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, explains the dilemmas facing farmers and the government alike today; constraints have been built into the market for agricultural products that make suitable (and urgently needed) changes almost impossible to effect.
 

Episode 286: Drawdown Toronto (video)


David Burman is deeply engaged with Drawdown and with the health and land rights of indigenous people. Here he integrates the two lines of thinking with regard to climate change and cultural awareness, leading us through meditative reflections. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Episode 285: Genomics and Epigenetics (video)


Michel Duguay studies the human genome, and is impressed with the rarity of errors or mutations, yet he worries that in our folly we may use nuclear weapons and destroy it. We talk about the new findings in epigenetics that show how gene expression can be changed by environmental conditions. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Episode 284: When Soviet and American Scientists Worked Together (video)


Roald Sagdeev led an organization of scientists in Gorbachev’s USSR; Frank von Hippel was his counterpart in the US. Both of them worked together to reduce the risk of nuclear war; they were instrumental in ending the cold war. Here they reminisce with Metta about that historical period.
 

Episode 283: The Millennium Project (video)


Jerome Glenn co-founded and runs The Millennium Project, of which Paul Werbos is a member. It works on identifyng and solving existential threats to humankind. They want a UN agency to coordinate work on the same threats, and discuss two of the most urgent ones. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Episode 282: Self-Regulating Biodiversity (video)


Jim Laurie and Phil Bogdonoff work to restore the ecosystems of the planet. Here they show that mixing all kinds of biological organisms in a single pool will enable that pool to purify itself. And they show that restoring beavers, large herbivores, and dung beetles to dried-up terrain restores vitality.
 

Episode 281: Farms and Nature (video)


Jackie Milne is a farmer living among First Nations people in the Northwest Territories of Canada and teaching regenerative agriculture. She blends her new technological insights with ancient practices and beliefs. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Episode 280: Reunion of Peace Oldsters (video)


Three senior Canadian peace activists get caught up with their current concerns. Derek Paul worries about the Permian extinction; Mary-Wynne Ashford enthuses about a book she’s read, and Trudy Govier and Metta worry about where to find successors. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Episode 279: COVID, Animals and Us (video)


Laura Kahn is an epidemiologist who specializes in zoonotic diseases – those that people and animals share. She says that some types of viral research should not be done, but nevertheless are being pursued in the US and elsewhere.
 

Episode 278: The World in June 2021 (video)


In this month’s Global Town Hall we talk about small modular reactors, argue about whether pumped water storage is too expensive, and agree that we are in an emergency that requires leadership — maybe by Guterres. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Episode 277: Unpredictable Russia (video)


Alexander Likhotal, formerly Gorbachev’s press secretary, and now a professor in Geneva, remains in close touch with democratic and peace-oriented political figures in Moscow. He calls the current tensions an “imaginary war” and foresees no new nuclear arms reductions.
 

Episode 276: Green Economics (video)


Robert Pollin has co-authored a book with Noam Chomsky about the economics of the climate crisis and the globel green deal. He believes that economic growth can (and must) continue while we reduce greenhouse gas emissions and learn to live within the earth’s finite resources. He explains his solutions to Metta.
 

Episode 275: Net Zero … When? (video)


William Fletcher’s book was published a year ago, so Metta asks him what he would change if he were writing it now. He sounds more optimistic than she does.
 

Episode 274: Please Frighten Us All (video)


Richard Denton, Gordon Edwards, Doug Saunders, and Adam Wynne worry rightly about nuclear weapons, and worry about the fact that most other people don’t worry enough. Metta claims that we can mobilize people only if they become emotional.
 

Episode 273: Civil Resistance Tactics (video)


Michael Beer has updated Gene Sharp’s 1973 book, now listing 350 tactics for nonviolent action. He and Metta discuss the ethical and efficacy considerations about the choice among these civil methods of resisting.
 

Episode 272: Brighten the Clouds (video)


Stephen Salter and colleagues are developing a technique for limiting global warming, especially slowing the melting of sea ice, by increasing the bright clouds that reflect some light away, instead of letting it in to warm the oceans. Beckwith and Wadhams discuss the evidence.
 

Episode 271: World Citizenship (video)


René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens. He and Metta share a hope for renewing the sense of loyalty to the whole of humankind, as opposed to particular subgroups such as nationalities. You can watch this series (or listen to them as audio podcasts) on our website, then discuss here: https://tosavetheworld.ca/videos/#comments.
 

Samples from recent comments

Welcome

This website is a meeting place for everyone working to prevent one or more of these threats: war and weapons / global warming / famine / pandemics / radioactive contamination / cyberattacks.

We invite you to describe, in the expandable suggestion box below, your best proposal for saving the world from one of these threats. If our curator agrees that it’s promising, we’ll put it into the suitable comment column and notify you by email so you can watch for replies.

Suggestion Box:
Ideas for Saving the World

How to Save the World

We welcome your comments on how we can overcome the six threats to humankind and the environment.

Above is a slide show with some samples from recent comments. Click to read them in full. To reply or add your own remarks, follow the posting instructions at the bottom of the article.

Also, please read the Platform for Survival below, an explanatory article, and a comment column or two. See our list of relevant resources, including videos from our weekly talk shows and monthly Global Town Halls.


The Platform for Survival

Navigation key: Click on the circled letter A to read an article; click on the letter C to read comments.

War and Weapons A C

1. All states owning or hosting nuclear weapons shall immediately de-alert them and commit to no-first-use.
2. All states, including those in NATO, shall sign, ratify, and within 10 years comply with the TPNW1Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
3. All states shall reduce their militaries and not plan war for “national security.”
4. All states shall develop a UN Emergency Peace Service to protect civilians and respond to crises.
5. All states shall ratify and fully implement the Arms Trade Treaty.
6. UN Convention on CCW2The “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons” is the body that can negotiate rules banning “killer robots.” and all states shall prohibit developing or deploying lethal autonomous weapons.

Global Warming A C

7. All states shall swiftly adopt maximally stringent efficiency standards for cars, trucks, ships, and aircraft.
8. The International Code Council3The International Code Council is an association with over 64,000 members. It develops model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. Some countries use its standards instead of developing their own. About 40 percent of emissions come from existing buildings, which could be 80% more efficient. Currently, design is done with consideration for payback by cost from utility savings. However, higher carbon fuels cost less right now than renewable energy, so buildings are being built to use fossil fuels instead of lower carbon fuel sources. They are not designed to be ready to use renewable energy sources. shall adopt stringent performance-based building codes.
9. All states shall adopt norms and procedures for the production, recovery, and recycling of materials.
10. All states shall accelerate R&D of HVDC4Research and Development of High voltage direct current electric grids electric grids, energy storage, and Demand System Management.
11. All states shall incorporate environmental considerations in developing national dietary food guides.
12. All states shall negotiate to preserve and protect forests and enhance carbon sinks.

Famine A C

13. All states shall accelerate SDG5Sustainable Development Goals efforts to end poverty and enable all to obtain food and potable water.
14. All states shall support improvements of soil health for resilient food production and carbon sequestration.

Pandemics A C

15. WHO shall promote nations’ use of Incident Management System6“Incident Management System” is an approach to disaster management developed by firefighters. for early detection and response to pandemics.
16. UN shall adopt a ‘one health approach’ integrating veterinary and environmental science7Pandemics often result from contact between humans and animals, whereby a virus jumps from an animal to a person. This risk is increasing because people are cutting down forests and living closer to the animals they displace, and because global warming enables some animals and insects to move into formerly temperate zones. to mitigate pandemics.

Radioactive Contamination A C

17. All states shall shift rapidly to effective generation of electricity by using renewable energy.*8This plank recognizes that phasing out all nuclear power plants, including subsidies and uranium mining, may be an outcome in the future.
18. All states shall prioritize the long-term control and safe storage of radioactive wastes, with public review.

Cyber Risks A C

19. The UN shall declare cyberspace a peaceful commons and create a binding treaty for international cyber norms.
20. Manufacturers of ICT9Information and communications technology hardware and software shall be liable for negligent security failures that cause harm.

Enabling Measures A C

21. All states shall support SDGs; tax wealth and financial transactions; and redistribute funds equitably.10Actors: The April 2017 version of the Security & Sustainability Guide (SSG) identifies 52 finance organizations: G7 and G20, the Bretton Woods organizations (IMF, World Bank),the Belmont Forum (of funding agencies), Bloomberg New Energy Finance, World Economic Forum (Davos), Climate Bonds Initiative, European Investment Bank, OECD’s Financial Action Task Force, Global Innovation Fund, Green Climate Fund (UNFCCC), UN Financing for Development), Green Investment Bank (UK), and the UNEP Finance Initiative; and The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. Actions include: Tobin tax, universal financial transactions tax, convening World conference to design a global financial architecture, including agreement on taxing wealth and redistribution. Canada’s Just Transition Task Force is now getting underway.
22. All multilateral institutions shall heed the demands of international civil society alliances for justice.11Actors: World Social Forum, LEAP, Climate Action International, ecumenical and interfaith coalitions, CCIC, IUCN and other INGOs.
23. Sub-national governments and non-state actors shall exercise leadership in solving global problems.12The Bretton Woods organizations (IMF, World Bank),the Belmont Forum (of funding agencies), Bloomberg New Energy Finance, World Economic Forum (Davos), Climate Bonds Initiative, European Investment Bank, OECD’s Financial Action Task Force , Global Innovation Fund, Green Climate Fund (UNFCCC), UN Financing for Development), Green Investment Bank (UK), and the UNEP Finance Initiative; and The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. Actions: Use opportunities available around meetings and processes of organizations like G7, G20, UNFCCC, UNGA, ECOSOC, WTO, IMF, World Bank annual meetings, World Economic Forum, national governments. Actors: C40, ICLEI, World Parliament of Mayors, Mayors for Peace, UNFCCC, UN Habitat, UN Global Compact Cities Programme, and 100 Resilient Cities (a $100m initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation), Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Urban Institute, The Urban Renaissance Institute at the University of Toronto.
24. Investors and regulators shall compel all businesses to comply with the U.N. Global Compact.13Actors: Business-led Groups such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Ethical Groups such as the UN’s Global Compact, Broadened Accounting Groups seeking new and appropriate measures, Certifying Organizations, Green Investing Groups, Sustainability Consultants, and Green Business Publishing, OHCHR-Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Stock Market disclosures; Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), G20, Trade Agreements, OECD, WEF.
25. Social movements and states shall prioritize Sustainable Common Security14Sustainable Common Security priorities are: to develop a common agenda that covers immediate threats, underlying causes and long-term consequences; to build bridges of understanding, support and solidarity in a movement of movements; to address shared global challenges; and, to counter the national security narrative of nuclear deterrence and further preparation for war, with steps toward a more effective peace system.
Actions might include: work for military transformation, economic conversion and progressive UN reform including a UN Emergency Peace Service, a UN Parliamentary Assembly, the strengthening of the International Criminal Court and support for equal participation of women in all UN processes and decision making to address shared global challenges
to address shared global challenges.

Sign the Platform for Survival

If you agree with at least 20 of the 25 items in our Platform, we welcome your endorsement! Just fill in (and submit) the form below to indicate your support. NB: Items marked * are required.

THE PLATFORM FOR SURVIVAL
Toronto, Canada, 31 May 2018

The human population faces significant risks from at least six current sources: wars and weapons (especially nuclear); global warming; famine; pandemics, massive radiation exposure, and cyberattacks. They are so inter-dependent that none of them can be solved without addressing one or more of the others, yet there are known ways of reducing all these risks. Therefore, we demand that our public institutions adopt all of the following policies to protect humanity.

War and Weapons — Especially Nuclear

1. All states owning or hosting nuclear weapons shall immediately de-alert them and commit to no-first-use.
2. All states, including those in NATO, shall sign, ratify, and within 10 years comply with the TPNW.1Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
3. All states shall reduce their militaries and not plan war for “national security.”
4. All states shall develop a UN Emergency Peace Service to protect civilians and respond to crises.
5. All states shall ratify and fully implement the Arms Trade Treaty.
6. UN Convention on CCW and all states shall prohibit developing or deploying lethal autonomous weapons.2The “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons” is the body that can negotiate rules banning “killer robots.”

Global Warming

7. All states shall swiftly adopt maximally stringent efficiency standards for cars, trucks, ships, and aircraft.
8. The International Code Council3The International Code Council is an association with over 64,000 members. It develops model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. Some countries use its standards instead of developing their own. About 40 percent of emissions come from existing buildings, which could be 80% more efficient. Currently, design is done with consideration for payback by cost from utility savings. However, higher carbon fuels cost less right now than renewable energy, so buildings are being built to use fossil fuels instead of lower carbon fuel sources. They are not designed to be ready to use renewable energy sources. shall adopt stringent performance-based building codes.
9. All states shall adopt norms and procedures for the production, recovery, and recycling of materials.
10. All states shall accelerate R&D of HVDC4Research and Development of High voltage direct current electric grids electric grids, energy storage, and Demand System Management.
11. All states shall incorporate environmental considerations in developing national dietary food guides.
12. All states shall negotiate to preserve and protect forests and enhance carbon sinks.

Famine

13. All states shall accelerate SDG5Sustainable Development Goals efforts to end poverty and enable all to obtain food and potable water.
14. All states shall support improvements of soil health for resilient food production and carbon sequestration.

Pandemics

15. WHO shall promote nations’ use of Incident Management System6“Incident Management System” is an approach to disaster management developed by firefighters. for early detection and response to pandemics.
16. UN shall adopt a ‘one health approach’ integrating veterinary and environmental science7Pandemics often result from contact between humans and animals, whereby a virus jumps from an animal to a person. This risk is increasing because people are cutting down forests and living closer to the animals they displace, and because global warming enables some animals and insects to move into formerly temperate zones. to mitigate pandemics.

Radiation Exposure

17. All states shall shift rapidly to effective generation of electricity by using renewable energy.8This plank recognizes that phasing out all nuclear power plants, including subsidies and uranium mining, may be an outcome in the future.
18. All states shall prioritize the long-term control and safe storage of radioactive wastes, with public review.

Cyber Attacks

19. The UN shall declare cyberspace a peaceful commons and create a binding treaty for international cyber norms.
20. Manufacturers of ICT hardware and software shall be liable for negligent security failures that cause harm.

Enabling Measures

21. All states shall support <abbr=”Sustainable Development Goals”>SDGs; tax wealth and financial transactions; and redistribute funds equitably.9Actors: The April 2017 version of the Security & Sustainability Guide (SSG) identifies 52 finance organizations: G7 and G20, the Bretton Woods organizations (IMF, World Bank),the Belmont Forum (of funding agencies), Bloomberg New Energy Finance, World Economic Forum (Davos), Climate Bonds Initiative, European Investment Bank, OECD’s Financial Action Task Force, Global Innovation Fund, Green Climate Fund (UNFCCC), UN Financing for Development), Green Investment Bank (UK), and the UNEP Finance Initiative; and The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. Actions include: Tobin tax, universal financial transactions tax, convening World conference to design a global financial architecture, including agreement on taxing wealth and redistribution. Canada’s Just Transition Task Force is now getting underway.
22. All multilateral institutions shall heed the demands of international civil society alliances for justice.10Actors: World Social Forum, LEAP, Climate Action International, ecumenical and interfaith coalitions, CCIC, IUCN and other INGOs.
23. Sub-national governments and non-state actors shall exercise leadership in solving global problems.11The Bretton Woods organizations (IMF, World Bank),the Belmont Forum (of funding agencies), Bloomberg New Energy Finance, World Economic Forum (Davos), Climate Bonds Initiative, European Investment Bank, OECD’s Financial Action Task Force , Global Innovation Fund, Green Climate Fund (UNFCCC), UN Financing for Development), Green Investment Bank (UK), and the UNEP Finance Initiative; and The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. Actions: Use opportunities available around meetings and processes of organizations like G7, G20, UNFCCC, UNGA, ECOSOC, WTO, IMF, World Bank annual meetings, World Economic Forum, national governments. Actors: C40, ICLEI, World Parliament of Mayors, Mayors for Peace, UNFCCC, UN Habitat, UN Global Compact Cities Programme, and 100 Resilient Cities (a $100m initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation), Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Urban Institute, The Urban Renaissance Institute at the University of Toronto.
24. Investors and regulators shall compel all businesses to comply with the U.N. Global Compact.12Actors: Business-led Groups such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Ethical Groups such as the UN’s Global Compact, Broadened Accounting Groups seeking new and appropriate measures, Certifying Organizations, Green Investing Groups, Sustainability Consultants, and Green Business Publishing, OHCHR-Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Stock Market disclosures; Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), G20, Trade Agreements, OECD, WEF.
25. Social movements and states shall prioritize Sustainable Common Security13Sustainable Common Security priorities are: to develop a common agenda that covers immediate threats, underlying causes and long-term consequences; to build bridges of understanding, support and solidarity in a movement of movements; to address shared global challenges; and, to counter the national security narrative of nuclear deterrence and further preparation for war, with steps toward a more effective peace system.
Actions might include: work for military transformation, economic conversion and progressive UN reform including a UN Emergency Peace Service, a UN Parliamentary Assembly, the strengthening of the International Criminal Court and support for equal participation of women in all UN processes and decision making to address shared global challenges
to address shared global challenges.

Click on the footnote number — where provided — for further information or clarification.

Everyone and every group is invited to sign on this website to endorse and adopt this list of demands as part of your own agenda. However, it may be amended or shortened only by a future review conference, to be announced in advance.

Signatories

The list below includes people who have signed via the website.

M.Jamil Raza
Subir Guin
Richard Paul
Ive Velikova
Parween Irani
Betty-Jane Antanavicius
Metta Spencer
Robin Collins
Dr. Richard Denton
Sylvie Lemieux
Georgina Bourke
Joanna Santa Barbara
Scott Prosser
Ken Simons
Lester Kurtz
Ronald St. John
Laval Martin
Liz Couture
David Langille
Anthony S Arrott
Peter Jones
Abraham Weizfeld
Jan Slakov
Eryl Court (2018†)
Paul McArthur
Earl Turcotte
Janet Nicol
Anna Jane McIntyre
Adam Wynne
Marianne Larsen
Vinay Jindal
Peter Meincke
Murat Guvenc
Jason McCartney
Lloyd Helferty
Barbara Birkett
Walter Dorn
Pieter Basedow
Farrah Mughal
Kathrin Winkler
Mary Groh
Sylvia Grady
Dr. Dwyer Sullivan
Maria Esmeralda Castelló
Gordon Doctorow
Jim Houston
Mange Ram Adhana
Colin Oakley
John Feffer
Robert Howes
Ronald Shìrtliff
Erick Bittschwam
Michel Duguay
Chrispine okumu
Captain Phil Stone
Toby Stewart
Marc Canals
Claire Adamson
Greg Duval
Victor Okechukwu Chimezie
Dick Moore

Sign the Platform for Survival

Please check back for new signing options.