The PJ Tatler

Doomsday Clock Ticks Two Minutes Closer to Midnight

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved its Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to the end of the world.

The clock now stands at three minutes to midnight — the closest it’s been to doomsday since 1984.

“Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity. And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a news release. “These failures of leadership endanger every person on Earth.”

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board looks at global issues on a regular basis and decides whether to move the minute hand of the clock, with particular stress on the status of nuclear arms and reaction to climate issues.

In recent years, the clock has moved the wrong direction for humanity. After standing at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 — the furthest it’s ever been from the end of the world — it’s gotten closer each time it’s been changed since, with the exception of 2010, when it was pushed back by one minute to 11:54 p.m.

The last time the clock was moved was in 2012, when it was moved up one minute to 11:55.

The scientists expressed disappointment at the latest developments.

Noting that nuclear trends are moving backwards, the Science and Security Board’s Sharon Squassoni pointed out that weapons modernization programs and disarmament have “ground to a halt.”

And action on climate change? “Efforts at reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases have so far been entirely insufficient to prevent unacceptable climate disruption,” said the Bulletin’s Richard Somerville. “We all need to respond now, while there is still time.”

The Doomsday Clock was first put out in 1947. The closest the clock has been to midnight was in 1953, when it was set at 11:58 p.m.

Left unmentioned by the scientists is that the leadership of the United States is in the hands of a weak, bumbling, naive president whose policies over the last six years have led to a more dangerous, more unstable world. That might be worth a minute closer to doomsday alone.

In fact, smart, patient, and consistent leadership is far more important to the safety of the world than superficial agreements to cut nuclear arsenals. Few could argue that Vladimir Putin or any European leaders, much less President Obama, fits that profile of a steady, capable leader.

And climate change? Human civilization could end in an hour if there’s a significant nuclear exchange. But it will be a hundred years before global warming is at its peak, if you accept the modeling. The idea that we have to drastically alter our economy and civilization now in order to save ourselves is a guess and shouldn’t have any bearing on where the hands of the Doomsday Clock are positioned.

But what fun is that — especially when the competition for non-profit dollars is intense. Including global warming in calculations for the Doomsday Clock is political, not scientific.

But then, the scientists have always been political. In 1984, they made this assessment of the relationship between the U.S. and Soviet Union:

In 1984, as the United States began a major defense build-up that included the pursuit of a potentially destabilizing ballistic missile defense system, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union reached an icy nadir. “Every channel of communications has been constricted or shut down; every form of contact has been attenuated or cut off. And arms control negotiations have been reduced to a species of propaganda,” the Bulletin wrote then, in explaining why the hands of the Doomsday Clock had been moved to three minutes to midnight, the closest they had been to catastrophe since the early days of above-ground hydrogen bomb testing.

The U.S. did not “begin” a defense buildup in 1984. By that time, it was well underway, having begun under Jimmy Carter in FY 1978.

And the reason arms-control negotiations were going nowhere was because the Soviet Union walked out of SALT talks because the U.S. would not agree to shelve its plans to deploy Pershing missiles in Europe. All the “propaganda” was coming from the Soviets.

The Doomsday Clock has always been a useful tool for the left to hit Republican administrations with. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, today with the clock sitting at the closest to midnight in 30 years, that there wouldn’t be a whisper of criticism directed at President Obama.