Are we really closer to the apocalypse? The board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) certainly think so. So much so, they moved the symbolic Doomsday Clock ahead one minute closer to midnight today.
“It is five minutes to midnight,” BAS executive director Kennette Benedict announced this afternoon at a press conference in Washington, D.C.
“Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007,” the BAS noted in its formal statement.
The Doomsday Clock, a potent symbol — and reminder — of the potential for global destruction, was conceived by a group of University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. They founded the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1945, and the clock, two years later. The clock is maintained by the BAS board of directors.
“Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leaders are failing to change business as usual. Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock,” Lawrence Krauss, co-chair of the BAS board of sponsors, said.
“Since fossil-fuel burning power plants and infrastructure built in 2012-2020 will produce energy—and emissions—for 40 to 50 years, the actions taken in the next few years will set us on a path that will be impossible to redirect,” added Allison Macfarlane, chair of the BAS science and security board.
The scientists also noted how Republicans seeking the GOP nomination were trying to outdo each other in denying climate science. As the Guardian reported:
Their greatest disappointment, however, was the failure of international leaders to rid the world of nuclear weapons, exemplified by what they called “ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear power program.” Even when Russia and America ratified a new nuclear treaty in 2010, there were still nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world.
They warned that the Fukushima meltdown once more exposed the dangers of nuclear power – not just because of technology but because of management failures.
The silver lining — if there is one — is that the clock’s onward ticking is not irreversible. It has indeed been wound back before. In fact it’s been reset 20 times — both backwards and forwards, since its inception.
The clock’s closest brush with doomsday: 1953 and the start of the nuclear arms race, when the scientists wound the clock up to 11:58 after the US tested its first hydrogen bomb. At the other end of the spectrum, in 1991, reveling in the post-Cold War optimism and the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — or START — the scientists pushed the clock back to seventeen minutes before midnight. The last time the clock was reset was in 2010 when the BAS moved it back from five minutes to six minutes.
“We all had a sense when we moved the clock in 2010 that we might have a breakthrough,” Benedict said. “Today there was a real sense that we really need new thinking and we don’t have new thinking.”
As Krauss commented “the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions.”
The BAS scientists do say they were heartened by several developments in 201 including the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements and political protest in Russia
Those developments, said Benedict in the Washington Post, “indicated that people are waking up, and want to have a say in their future.”
So what will it take to reverse the ticking clock now?
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