On Saturday October 26, peace volunteers took six hours to count out 10,400 notes of £500,000 each, a total of £5.2billion, outside the Ministry of Defence in Horse Guards Avenue, London, and ‘reallocate this’ to tree planting to protect the climate. The money counting action was organised by Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War. The amount counted represents the UK nuclear weapons budget for 2018-2019.

The mock note used in the London money counting.

The motto of the counting is ‘Spend out Taxes on Trees not Bombs’, said Karen Robinson, the event coordinator. ‘We were demanding that the £5.2 billion the UK currently spends in a year on nuclear weapons is spent instead on addressing the climate emergency.’

‘According to the Committee on Climate Change, the UK in addition to carbon-emission reductions, needs to plant 30,000 hectares of trees every year until 2050 if it hopes to reach it’s net-carbon reduction goals,’ said Ms Robinson ‘UK government financial commitments to do this are woefully inadequate. The nuclear weapons money is need to fill the gap.’

Counting outside the Ministry of Defence.

The volunteers took the mock money from a briefcase (nuclear weapons slush fund), counted it, and then put it into a basket marked for trees. The counting continued even when it rained thanks to protection from (non-nuclear) umbrellas. Click here for photos of the counting action. Click here for videos of the action.

Meanwhile in New York, a core team of five volunteers, including Bill Kidd a Member of the Scottish Parliament, took seven days and nights to count out $540 billion (in 540,000 notes each of $1 million).

The counting action was part of the Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign which works to cute nuclear weapons budgets, end investments in the nuclear weapons industry, and relocate these budgets and investments in climate protection, poverty alleviation, peace and achieving the sustainable development goals.

Counting in the rain.

The initiative is supported in the UK by memes from a number of civil society leaders, most of whom were not able to make it to the London counting event. They include:

  • Roger Waters, lead singer/songwriter for Pink Floyd (click here to see a promotional video and article featuring Roger Waters);
  • Baroness Sue Miller, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament;
  • Bruce Kent, Honorary Vice-President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament;
  • Mark Owen, Secretary-General of the European Council of Religious Leaders;
  • Antony Owen, poet and Patron of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament;
  • Renu Mehta, Founder of the Real Aid Campaign;
  • Scilla Elworthy, Co-founder of Rising Women, Rising World;
  • Tony Robinson, Co-director of Pressenza News Agency, Member of Abolition 2000 Coordinating Committee;
  • Colin Archer, former Secretary-General of the International Peace Bureau;
  • Vijay Mehta, Founder of Uniting for Peace.

Antony Owen wrote a poem specially for Count the Nuclear Weapons Money. He dedicated the poem to Karipbek Kuyukov, a second generation victim of nuclear tests and Ambassador of the ATOM Project:

The sum of all fears
For Karipbek Kuyukov

In Hiroshima, she fills her scars with rain
counts people sliding off their androids
and remembers humans in monsters falling into the river to die.

In Autumn, she looks at the ground at leaves blowing skyward,
the dead are lifting them through whispers
this flame red air soothes her shadows wound.

In Winter, a scrawny wolf comes to kill her hens, she lets him.
His mathematical stare picks the weak ones off,
she counts the wolves and knows they are less.

In black rain she counted the days until he was born,
a strange waxy ink soaked her from the atom-heavy sky
his hand scrolled across her belly like a love-letter and stopped.

Today we are counting the money to keep the rain pure.
Counting Churchill’s on five pound notes they named Fat Man after.
In Nagasaki they should not be playing baseball for yen.

Today we are counting the money to build a wall of dead presidents
and lets count the all-male presidents which stop at forty-five,
like the doomsday clock at two minutes to midnight.

When it chimes,
who will count the living?
Who will save the hens from the mad Eagle and Scythe born of flame?

Antony Owen
Poet and Patron of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

[Notes: Eagle and scythe symbols of America and Russia. Last line implies “mad” as in mutually assured destruction. The doomsday clock is set two minutes to midnight which is the closest to armageddon since it began].