“She showed me what one set-on-fire human being can do to shift the consciousness of the world.” –Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
Madonna once called to chat. Meryl Streep said, “Helen Caldicott has been my inspiration to speak out.” Martin Sheen says she’s shining “a powerful light.”
A number of well-known celebrities back the work of Dr. Helen Caldicott, but in the world of anti-nuclear activists, Dr. Caldicott’s name is a bigger marquee than all her Hollywood supporters combined.
For nearly 40 years, Australia native Dr. Caldicott has been on a mission to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age and the changes humans need to make to stop environmental destruction.
She started her career as a doctor, founding the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital in 1975 and then moving to the United States to become an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a staff member at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston. But as good as she was at medicine, in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, the pull of preventing nuclear war was stronger, and in 1980, she resigned in order to give her full-time attention to this mission. Her medical roots, however, continue to inform her work. In her book Nuclear Madness, she writes: “As a doctor, as well as a mother and a world citizen, I wish to practice the ultimate form of preventive medicine by ridding the earth of these technologies that propagate disease, suffering, and death.”
Dr. Caldicott doesn’t just talk about her beliefs — she does something about them. In the U.S., she co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility, an organization of 23,000 doctors committed to educating their colleagues about the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear war, and has started similar groups in other countries. The international umbrella organization, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.
She has written prolifically on the topic of halting nuclear weapons production, authoring seven books and countless articles. Most recently, she updated her classic If You Love This Planet, detailing trends such as ozone depletion, global warming, toxic pollution, food contamination, and deforestation, but offering hope as she rallies readers of the book to fight for the earth as we know it.
Her work has not gone unnoticed. Dr. Caldicott has received more than 20 honorary doctoral degrees from universities, and she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Linus Pauling, a Nobel Laureate. In 2003, she was presented with the Lannan Foundation’s Prize for Cultural Freedom; she was named Humanist of the Year in 1982 by the American Humanist Association; and the Smithsonian Institute labeled her one of the most influential women of the 20th century.
And like her Hollywood supporters, she’s been in movies — not as an actor, but as the subject. Eight Minutes to Midnight was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981, while If You Love This Planet took home the Academy Award for best documentary in 1982. Helen’s War: Portrait of a Dissident was created by Dr. Caldicott’s filmmaker niece and won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Direction (Documentary) 2004, and the Sydney Film Festival Dendy Award for Best Documentary in 2004.
Now splitting her time between Australia and the U.S., Dr. Caldicott gives lectures and hosts a weekly radio show called If You Love This Planet, which covers issues such as global warming, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, toxic pollution, hunger and poverty, and species extinction in an hour-long, in-depth format.
A lifetime devoted to educating the public came at a personal cost, leaving Dr. Caldicott with too little family time and a failed marriage. In the end, though, she believes it was her destiny. “I could have stayed at Harvard and done really well. I had a great boss. But I could see beyond pouring stuff into test tubes and treating individual patients. What was the use of caring for my patients so carefully if, in fact, they had no future?”
For more information on Dr. Caldicott, visit her website at www.helencaldicott.com.