Multiple factors expose world to 'doom' warn scientists

The iconic Doomsday Clock symbolizing the gravest perils facing humankind is now closer to midnight than at any point since its creation in 1947, when the clock was set at 7 minutes. The largest setting was 17 minutes in 1991.

To underscore the need for action, the time on the Doomsday Clock is now being expressed in seconds, rather than minutes: Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates, moved the Doomsday Clock from 2 minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight.

As the statement issued by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explains: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change — that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire.

The Doomsday Clock has now moved closer to midnight in three of the last four years.

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “It is 100 seconds to midnight. We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds – not hours, or even minutes. It is the closest to Doomsday we have ever been in the history of the Doomsday Clock. We now face a true emergency – an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay.”

Former California Governor Jerry Brown, executive chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “Dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder. Climate change just compounds the crisis. If there's ever a time to wake up, it's now."

For the first time, experts from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists were joined in making the Doomsday Clock change by members of The Elders. Founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, The Elders are independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, deputy chair, The Elders; and former South Korean Foreign Minister, said: “We share a common concern over the failure of the multilateral system to address the existential threats we face. From the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal, to deadlock at nuclear disarmament talks and division at the UN Security Council – our mechanisms for collaboration are being undermined when we need them most.”

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, chair, The Elders, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “We ask world leaders to join us in 2020 as we work to pull humanity back from the brink. The Doomsday Clock now stands at 100 seconds to midnight, the most dangerous situation that humanity has ever faced. Now is the time to come together – to unite and to act.”

The Doomsday Clock statement highlights three worsening factors:

•Nuclear weapons. In the nuclear realm, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race and lowering barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent.

•Climate change. Governmental action on climate change still falls far short of meeting the challenge at hand. In 2019 the effects of manmade climate change were manifested by one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires, and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice.

•Cyber-based disinformation. Continued corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision making depend has heightened the nuclear and climate threats. Cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet.”

Possible actions to turn back the hands of the Clock include:

•U.S. and Russian leaders can return to the negotiating table to: reinstate the INF Treaty or take other action to restrain an unnecessary arms race in medium-range missiles; extend the limits of New START beyond 2021.

•The countries of the world should publicly rededicate themselves to the temperature goal of the Paris climate agreement, which is restricting warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius higher than the preindustrial level.

•The United States and other signatories of the Iran nuclear deal can work together to restrain nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Iran is poised to violate key thresholds of the deal.

• The international community should begin multilateral discussions aimed at establishing norms of behavior, both domestic and international, that discourage and penalize the misuse of science. Cyber-enabled information warfare is a threat to the common good.

 

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