If Only We Could Be As Anxious About Climate Change As We Can Be About Nuclear Catastrophe

The depictions of acute radiation syndrome, or ARS, in Chernobyl scared the crap out of me—an A-plus, please, for the makeup artists who made the actor who played the doomed firefighter Vasily Ignatenko look so ghastly in that final stage right before his death.

The show also uncritically repeated Lyudmila Ignatenko’s searing story—which came from Svetlana Alexievich’s book Voices From Chernobyl —that her child died soon after birth because the baby had “saved” her mother from radiation poisoning by absorbing it in utero.

And I don’t think I was the only one to find the effects terrifying—writer and president of the nuclear-power advocacy group Environmental Progress Michael Shellenberger has collected multiple examples of Day After –esque reactions from viewers and reviewers of the show who set about Googling the locations of local nuclear power plants and described themselves as being “in a full-blown panic.” A few specifically mentioned the hospital scenes of the first responders rotting away as foundational to their anxiety.

Valery Legasov wasn’t as honest or as bold as the show’s ripping final episode would have us believe; the composite character Ulyana Khomyuk, as the New Yorker’s Masha Gessen argued , is a “truth-knower” who could never have survived in the Soviet system.

But the true lesson of the success of Chernobyl might be just the opposite—what the series actually demonstrates is just how difficult it is to make the reality of climate change into a story that could resonate similarly with viewers.

Seven migrant children—most of whom came from Guatemala, where farmers have suffered from extreme weather events, fluctuating temperatures, and uneven rainfall and have migrated in response— have died in federal custody since last year.

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