The Doomsday Clock (1947- ) marks how close the world is to self-destruction in the judgement of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, with input from 15 Nobel Prize laureates. It uses:
“the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.”
In 2017 it now stands at two and a half minutes to midnight, the worst it has been since the 1950s.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded by scientists who created the first atom bomb. The founding editor was concerned not just with an atomic end of days but more generally with the “Pandora’s box of modern science”.
They set the clock according to not just the in/action of political leaders but stuff like the number and kind of nuclear weapons in use, how much carbon dioxide is in the air, the acidity of the oceans and how fast the sea level is rising.
The clock through the years, showing some of the highlights:
1947: It is 7 minutes to midnight when the clock first appears.
1949: 3 minutes: The Soviet Union gets the bomb.
1953: 2 minutes: US tests the first hydrogen bomb.
1963: 12 minutes: Partial Test Ban treaty, signed in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
1974: 9 minutes: India gets the bomb.
1981: 4 minutes: Soviets invade Afghanistan.
1984: 3 minutes: arms control talks are just for show.
1988: 6 minutes: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
1990: 10 minutes: Fall of the Berlin Wall.
1991: 17 minutes: START treaty.
1998: 9 minutes: India and Pakistan test nuclear weapons.
2007: 5 minutes: Climate change, North Korea gets the bomb, Iran is close.
A chart showing all the changes:
Of 2017: A week after Trump became US president, they moved the clock a half minute closer to midnight:
“events surrounding the US presidential campaign – including cyber offensives and deception campaigns apparently directed by the Russian government and aimed at disrupting the US election – have brought American democracy and Russian intentions into question and thereby made the world more dangerous than was the case a year ago.”
“He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science.”
North Korea is also a concern.
The way forward is to cut nuclear arms and carbon emissions, which in turn will decrease global warming and the likelihood of nuclear war. In 2016, carbon emissions were flat, while the number of nuclear weapons increased.
A good first step for the US:
“the Trump administration needs to make a clear, unequivocal statement that it accepts climate change, caused by human activity, as a scientific reality. No problem can be solved, unless its existence is recognized.”
What ordinary citizens can do:
- Learn about climate change and nuclear weapons.
- Share what they learn.
- Inform government representatives of their concerns.
“Facts are indeed stubborn things, and they must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved, long term.”
– Abagond, 2017.
- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
- atom bomb
- climate change
- fake news
- Clock of the Long Now
- Muzak – somehow I am reminded of Muzak.