TODAY (Thursday, September 26) is International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, a day designated by the United Nations to draw attention to one of its oldest goals: achieving global nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear weapons threaten us with extinction. They pose one of the gravest threats to public health and human survival. According to UN estimates, 14,500 nuclear weapons remain. That is enough to completely destroy the Earth, many times over.

We need to remember we have come very close to nuclear war in the past. On September 26, 1983, Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov made a split-second decision. Thankfully, he deemed an apparent missile attack from the United States to be an error, refusing to trigger a counter-attack and thus averting a potential nuclear war. If Petrov had not made that personal judgment, very few, if any, of us would have survived.

Nuclear winter would mean plummeting global temperatures, darkness and the end of life on the planet, and in 2019 the risk of nuclear war is the greatest it has been since the height of the Cold War. Hence, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock is now set at just two minutes to midnight, the closest it has ever been to a nuclear apocalypse.

The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons alerts us to the need to abolish nuclear weapons for good. Our lives and the survival of our planet could depend on it.

Philip Gilligan, on behalf of Cumbria and Lancashire Area Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament