Does anybody know what time it is — armageddon-wise?
Posted by metaphorical on 19 January 2007
How close are we to the end of the world? And will it come from a nuclear Armageddon, or global climate change?
I haven’t seen this discussed much, but the Doomsday Clock was moved forward two minutes the other day. It’s not a trivial change—from 7 minutes to midnight, to 5 minutes is a change of more than 25 percent. The clock has been moved only 17 times since it was created 60 years ago.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Adjusts Clock From 7 to 5 Minutes Before Midnight; “ Deteriorating” Global Situation Cited on Nuclear Weapons and New Factor: Climate Change.
WASHINGTON, D.C. and LONDON, ENGLAND /// January 17, 2007 /// The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) is moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight. It is now 5 minutes to midnight. Reflecting global failures to solve the problems posed by nuclear weapons and the climate crisis, the decision by the BAS Board of Directors was made in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates.
More than the percentage, the change is significant in another way, though—this is the first time a reason a reason was cited other than nuclear proliferation.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project and were deeply concerned about the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. In 1947 the Bulletin introduced its clock to convey the perils posed by nuclear weapons through a simple design. The Doomsday Clock evoked both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero).
The BAS statement said, “The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons.”
Sir Martin Rees, president of The Royal Society, professor of cosmology and astrophysics , master of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, and a BAS sponsor, said: “Nuclear weapons still pose the most catastrophic and immediate threat to humanity, but climate change and emerging technologies in the life sciences also have the potential to end civilization as we know it.”
Stephen Hawking, a BAS sponsor, professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of The Royal Society, said: “As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth.
The hands of the clock have been moved backwards as well as forward. According to the timeline at the BAS website, it’s been within 2 minutes of midnight once, in 1953, when Russia caught up to the U.S. with its first successful test of an H-bomb, and within 3 minutes several times. It was a full 17 minutes shy of doom in 1991, with the end of the Cold War.
The statement of reasons for moving the clock makes for some harrowing reading. Here’s two of them:
- “The second nuclear era, unlike the dawn of the first nuclear age in 1945, is characterized by a world of porous national borders, rapid communications that facilitate the spread of technical knowledge, and expanded commerce in potentially dangerous dual-use technologies and materials. The Pakistan-based network that provided nuclear technologies to Libya, North Korea, and Iran, is an example of the new challenges confronting the international community.”
- “Global warming poses a dire threat to human civilization that is second only to nuclear weapons. Through flooding and desertification, climate change threatens the habitats and agricultural resources that societies depend upon for survival. As such, climate change is also likely to contribute to mass migrations and even to wars over arable land, water, and other natural resources.”
The BAS also noted the likelihood of a renaissance of nuclear power.
- “Several factors are driving the turn to nuclear power— aging nuclear reactors, rising energy demands, a desire to diversify energy portfolios and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and the need to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change. Yet expansion of nuclear power increases the risks of nuclear proliferation.”
You have to like an organization that is nothing more than words on paper (or, nowadays, a website). To judge by its name, the BAS doesn’t have a bulletin, it is a publication. It has, though a board of directors, a fellowship program, and takes donations, just like a regular academically-based advocacy group. I still like the name though.