The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock thirty seconds closer to midnight, the time of apocalypse, based only on the rise of one man, President Donald Trump. If accurate, this means western civilization is closer to annihilation than during most of the Cold War, and even than at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“This year’s Clock deliberations felt more urgent than usual,” Rachel Bronson, the executive director and publisher of the Bulletin, said in a statement. She pointed to various reasons: “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.”
“Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president [sic] of the United States, his words matter,” wrote Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University and chairman of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin, and David Titley, a member of its science panel, in a New York Times op-ed.
Krauss and Titley argued that Trump “has promised to impede progress on both” of “humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.”
Trump has indeed asked why he can’t use nuclear weapons, and that is indeed worrisome, but the threat of climate change is extremely overrated by this report. For context, Manhattan Project scientists, concerned about the first atomic weapons, founded the nonprofit Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1945. The clock first emerged two years later.
According to the group, the clock “conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making.” The website now explains that there are three factors instead of the original one. While the original group was focused on nuclear weapons, later scientists added climate change and cyber technology to the list.
Throughout the Cold War, the threat of nuclear armageddon — or “mutually assured destruction” — never seemed too far off. In 1947, it was 7 minutes to midnight. Two years later, the clock moved 4 minutes — placing it 3 minutes to midnight, after news that the Soviet Union had tested its first nuclear device.
Despite this quick change, at that point the Bulletin had the good sense to add a caveat: “We do not advice Americans that doomsday is near and that they can expect atomic bombs to start falling on their heads a month or year from now. But we think they have reason to be deeply alarmed and to be prepared for grave decisions.”
Wait — a self-proclaimed Doomsday Clock is abusing its position?! Who could have guessed?
In 1953, the clock was 2 minutes to midnight, as the U.S. decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, “obliterating a Pacific Ocean islet in the process; nine months later, the Soviets test an H-bomb of their own.” This was indeed alarming, but in 1960 the Bulletin had to admit that the situation had improved — they dialed it back to 7 minutes to midnight.
Throughout the Cold War, the Doomsday Clock fluctuated, going as low as 12 minutes in 1963 and 1972 and to 4 minutes in 1981 (when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan) and 3 minutes in 1984 (when dialogue between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was interrupted). Interestingly, these were the premonitions of the Soviet Union’s impending collapse. What the Bulletin interpreted as Ronald Reagan’s threat to civilization turned out to be the last gasp of the Cold War.
In 1991, the clock reached its most rosy prediction: 17 minutes to midnight. The end of the Cold War and cuts to nuclear arsenals provided a welcome gasp of relief. Naturally, it did not last (otherwise why keep the clock running?). In 2002, following the September 11 attacks, the clock jumped to 7 minutes to midnight, and has been inching closer ever since.
In 2007, when it seemed the United States was on the verge of winning the War on Terror, the Bulletin introduced another excuse to prolong an elevated threat level — climate change. A system designed to warn of nuclear armageddon was expanded to include the inflated fears of global warming.
Even under Obama, the clock ticked closer to midnight. In 2015, it reached 3 minutes to midnight, and stuck there in 2016. The Bulletin justified this worse-than-Cold War rating, saying that “the probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”
This over-inflated alarm had a definite downside: when the Bulletin wanted to join the Trump hysteria, they could only justify moving the clock 30 seconds.
But is the world really in more danger than during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Is climate change the same kind of imminent threat as mutually assured destruction? If the Bulletin ever wants to move the needle farther, it will be the same time on the Doomsday Clock as it was when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. first tested H-bombs, when no one knew that the threat of mutually assured destruction would indeed be enough to prevent nuclear war. You would think, if these people are this sure the world is about to end, they’d do something other than publish a memo.
Yes, the Islamic State (ISIS) has been able to wreak havoc across the globe, but how high are the chances they will harness nuclear weapons? Yes, Trump has made a few alarming statements — but does anyone honestly expect he will use nuclear weapons? He does have the ability to surprise, but the president is not stupid.
There are very many good reasons to doubt the “scientific consensus” that human action is the primary driver of increased global temperatures and that unless the government launches a massive takeover of the economy, the world will be destroyed. Alarmists have been warning of global warming since the 1970s, and doomsday has yet to arrive.
Indeed, the climate change crowd is showing all the signs of a crumbling orthodoxy fighting to hold on to its dying position. Senate Democrats ran a kind of climate inquisition attacking organizations which are skeptical of the “scientific consensus,” labeling them as a “web of denial.” A government-funded scientist even argued for using RICO laws — intended to fight organized crime — against such organizations.
Liberals have been going crazy at the prospect of Trump becoming president. Many rushed to copy scientific data, fearing a “book burning” where he would erase it from existence. This is against the law, and betrays their paranoia that climate skeptics dismiss data, not just an interpretation of it. Indeed, scientists are planning to march on Washington, D.C., as if Trump were launching a “war on science.” This is not the case, and liberals’ fear of it speaks volumes about their lack of empathy.
This is not to say Trump is perfect — far from it. Perhaps most alarmingly on the science front, he has encouraged an unhealthy and unscientific fear that vaccines can lead to autism.
Trump’s bravado on nuclear weapons and his position on vaccines are troubling, but the president is not anti-science, and his positions against climate alarmism are refreshing, not an existential threat to Earth’s survival. And western civilization is certainly not in danger of imminent destruction.