Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 30, No.2

September 29, 2005


Speaking to future generations

Peter van Wyck publishes a book on what we should tell our descendants about nuclear dangers ahead


Signs of Danger: Waste, Trauma and Nuclear Threat, a book by Communication Studies Professor Peter van Wyck, was launched last weekend.

It explores a controversy surrounding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M., where the U.S. government has begun piling nuclear waste in a vast underground pit. Van Wyck is concerned about how to mark the space not only for today, but for 300 generations into the future.

Earlier this year, Signs of Danger won the Robinson Book Prize given by the Canadian Communication Association for the best book in the field written by a Canadian scholar or one who works and lives in Canada. Leslie Regan Shade, another Concordia Communication Studies professor, is president of the Association.

The jury found that the book “bridges environmental communications, memory studies and art. . . Van Wyck weaves together an artful narrative of how our environmental policies today will help shape our language and culture.”

In an email to CTR, he elaborated: “It is a story about how ecological threat, as I develop the concept, is a radically new form of threat. Indeed, the 19th-century concepts of risk, liability, reparation, location, the insurable, and even the concept of casualty, no longer neatly apply.”

He got the idea for the book when he read an article in Harper’s magazine about the problem of building a monument at the WIPP to warn the present and the future of the danger of nuclear wastes that were interred beneath it.

“At the time, I was writing about the philosophical conservatism of North American radical environmentalism, and this problem seemed to eclipse all these other ideological disputes.

“I didn’t really start working on it until some years later when I was doing my PhD at McGill. The preliminary philosophical work on this problem, Signs of Danger/Dangerous Signs: The Marker Project and Nuclear Threat, was awarded the Governor-General’s Gold Medal by McGill.”