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Climate change, conflicts move Doomsday Clock to closer to midnight

Thursday, January 23rd 2020, 12:35 pm - The world is now closer to the brink than ever before

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists updated the Doomsday Clock on Thursday, advancing the Clock's hands to 100 seconds to midnight.

"As far as the Bulletin and the Doomsday Clock are concerned, the world has entered into the realm of the two-minute warning, a period when danger is high and the margin for error low," said Rachel Bronson, President and CEO of The Bulletin. "The moment demands attention and new, creative responses. If decision makers continue to fail to act — pretending that being inside two minutes is no more urgent than the preceding period — citizens around the world should rightfully echo the words of climate activist Greta Thunberg and ask: "How dare you?""


According to the Bulletin, "this year, we move the Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight not just because trends in our major areas of concern — nuclear weapons and climate change — have failed to improve significantly over the last two years. We move the Clock toward midnight because the means by which political leaders had previously managed these potentially civilization-ending dangers are themselves being dismantled or undermined, without a realistic effort to replace them with new or better management regimes. In effect, the international political infrastructure for controlling existential risk is degrading, leaving the world in a situation of high and rising threat. Global leaders are not responding appropriately to reduce this threat level and counteract the hollowing-out of international political institutions, negotiations, and agreements that aim to contain it. The result is a heightened and growing risk of disaster."


The two simultaneous threats to human civilization - climate change and nuclear war - are multiplying.

The United States and Russia have suspended or withdrawn from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was an essential nuclear arms control agreement. American President Donald Trump cancelled the Iran nuclear deal, opening the way for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Political tensions between the world's powers are worsening.

The impacts of climate change are escalating. Carbon emissions continue to rise, and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached a new high in 2019. The world continues to warm, with the past five years being the hottest the globe has seen since the start of the Industrial Revolution (and quite possibly for thousands or tens to hundreds of thousands of years). Meanwhile, global actions to curb the impacts of global warming and climate change are either stalling or falling short of the required goals.

Compounding the problem is what the Bulletin refers to as a campaign of "sophisticated, technology-propelled propaganda", employed by governments and world leaders to undermine efforts at world peace and climate action.

"By undermining cooperative, science- and law-based approaches to managing the most urgent threats to humanity," the Bulletin said in a statement, "these leaders have helped to create a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later."

When the Doomsday Clock started in 1947, it stood at 7 minutes to midnight, reflecting the potential danger of the impending arms race, but also hope that the world could step back from the brink.

In the years since its inception - and up until now - the closest the Clock has come to doomsday was 2 minutes to midnight.

The first time was in 1953, at the start of the nuclear arms race, when the United States and Soviet Union tested their first hydrogen bombs. Then, due to the increasing threat of climate change and rising tensions and conflicts around the world, the Bulletin once again set the clock at 2 minutes to midnight in 2018, and it stayed there for 2019, reflecting a "new abnormal".

The farthest the clock as been from doomsday was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991. At the time, the Bulletin was reacting to the United States and the Soviet Union coming together to sign the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty - the first attempt at dismantling the overwhelming stockpiles of nuclear weapons built up during the Cold War.



With the Doomsday Clock ticking closer to midnight than ever before, the situation is indeed dire. There are things that can be done to pull us back from the brink, however.

To address the threat of nuclear war, the scientists with The Bulletin recommend that the United States and Russia reinstate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which U.S. and Russian governments both formally suspended in February 2019, and from which the U.S. formally withdrew in August of last year. These two nations should also seriously discuss lowering the alert status of their nuclear arsenals, and limiting the modernization of nuclear weapons programs, as well as starting new talks to address cyber warfare, the militarization of space and the production of new weapons technologies.

Additionally, nations should return to the negotiating table, to either renew commitments to the Iran nuclear deal or devise a new deal that can similarly limit the development of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Concerning the threat of climate change, citizens of the world should demand action from their governments, particularly in the United States, where President Donald Trump withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement in 2017. Governments of the world, the scientists said, need to renew their dedication to the goals of the Paris Agreement, develop new strategies to curb carbon emissions, and make significant changes to how the world generates its energy.

For those of us who are not in a position to influence these decisions directly, we still have the power to change the world for the better through our votes. To move the hands of the Doomsday Clock away from midnight, use your vote to elect representatives who are committed to addressing the problems noted above. Then, ensure they fulfill their commitments.

"The global security situation is unsustainable and extremely dangerous, but that situation can be improved, if leaders seek change and citizens demand it," The Bulletin stated. "There is no reason the Doomsday Clock cannot move away from midnight. It has done so in the past when wise leaders acted, under pressure from informed and engaged citizens around the world. We believe that mass civic engagement will be necessary to compel the change the world needs."

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


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