The Doomsday Clock lost another 30 seconds
The Short Version
Utter and complete destruction is closer than it ever has been before, thanks to continued nuclear proliferation and governments refusal to adequately address global climate change. As a result, the scientists who regulate the Doomsday Clock have moved it to 2.5 minutes until midnight, the closest it has ever been in its 70-year history. Anyone with a lick of common sense should be frightened. Wise people are encouraged to lead humanity away from the brink.
First, A Little Background
What is the Doomsday Clock and who gets to decide when it moves? I mean, is this a government project or a bunch of loonies who are just out to scare everyone?
The Doomsday Clock is a metaphor, of course. There’s no real clock that somehow triggers the end of the world. The concept originated back in 1947 with University of Chicago scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project. You know, the guys who actually created the first nuclear bomb. Once they realized what they had created, they knew that all of humanity was in danger. The apocalypse is represented as midnight and the countdown to zero represents the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion. Over the years, other factors such as climate change and emerging technologies have been factored into the clock’s time as well.
The position of the clock is determined by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The board includes the world’s leading nuclear scientist, including 15 Nobel laureates. The board meets annually to determine whether any adjustment is needed to the time of the clock.
Why The Change In Time
The US president changed.
No, really, that’s a significant portion of why the board chose to move the clock thirty seconds forward this year. Rachel Bronson, the board’s president, put it this way: “… trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise, and words were used by a President-elect of the United States in cavalier and often reckless ways to address the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change.”
In short, failure to take the realities of leadership seriously is making those who most deeply understand the dangers we face feel extremely nervous about the future. You can read through the full report here if you have the time.
The conclusion of the statement reads:
“For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. In its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned: ‘The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.’ In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”
What Can Be Done
If you’re beginning to get the feeling that we’re all screwed, again, you’re not alone. The statement includes some possible steps for action, though. Let me repeat those for you here:
Because we know from experience that governmental leaders respond to public pressure, we also call on citizens of the world to express themselves in all the ways available to them— including through use of the powerful new tools of social media—to demand that:
- US and Russian leaders return to the negotiating table to seek further reductions in nuclear arms and to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race. The world can be more secure with much, much smaller nuclear arsenals than now exist— if political leaders are truly interested in protecting their citizens from harm.
- The United States and Russia reduce the alert levels of their nuclear weapons and use existing crisis stability mechanisms to avoid inadvertent escalation of conflict. Provocative military exercises increase the possibilities for accidental war and should cease.
- Governments around the world sharply reduce their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill the Paris Accord promise of keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, or less. This temperature target is consistent with consensus views on climate science and is eminently achievable and economically viable, provided that poorer countries are given the support they need to make the post-carbon transition.
- The Trump administration acknowledge climate change as a science-backed reality and redouble US efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions and support carbonfree energy sources, including, when economically reasonable and safe over the long term, nuclear energy. It is well past time to move beyond arguments over the reality of climate change and on to solutions, including fiscal measures—such as carbon markets and carbon taxes or fees—that encourage efficiency and put a price on carbon emissions.
- The United States, China, Russia, and other concerned nations engage with North Korea to reduce nuclear risks. Neighbors in Asia face the most urgent threat, but as North Korea improves its nuclear and missile arsenals, the threat will rapidly become global. As we said last year and repeat here: Now is not the time to tighten North Korea’s isolation but to engage seriously in dialogue.
- Leaders of countries with commercial nuclear power programs deal responsibly with safety issues and with the commercial nuclear waste problem. Top experts disagree on whether an expansion of nuclear-powered electricity generation can become a major component of the effort to limit climate change. Regardless of the trajectory of the global nuclear industry, there will be a continuing need for safe and secure interim and permanent nuclear waste storage facilities and for ever-safer nuclear power plants.
- The countries of the world collaborate on creating institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially malign or catastrophic misuses of new technologies. Scientific advance can provide society with great benefits. But as events surrounding the recent US presidential election show, the potential for misuse of potent new technologies is real. Governmental, scientific, and business leaders need to take appropriate steps to address possibly devastating consequences of these technologies.
If that list looks intimidating, that might be because it is. This is serious stuff that deeply affects our ability to live and thrive on this planet. We’re in deep shit and it’s going to take more than some nice words to get us out.
You know what you need to do. Get busy.