ANDREW GLIKSON. 2.0 minutes to midnight on the clock of the atomic scientists.

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences” (Winston Churchill).

On 25 January 2018 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the arms of its doomsday clock to 2.0 minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1953, with implications for humanity and nature. This is the closest the clock has been to catastrophe since detonation of the first hydrogen bomb on 1 November 1952 on Eniwatok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. By 2 March 2016 some 14,900 nuclear weapons existed, enough to eliminate a massive proportion of living creatures, as well as destroy human civilization as we know it. Underlying factors for the shift of the Atomic Clock to 2.0 minutes to midnight include rising expenditure on nuclear weapons, increase in accuracy and tactical “usability” of nuclear weapons, lateral nuclear proliferation, including by North Korea, absence of arms control negotiations and failure in effective measures to combat climate disruption round the world—amounting to crimes against the Earth.  

The atomic scientists point to the US President’s attitudes as a major factor in the growing risk to the Earth. This includes belligerent expressions, inconsistency of foreign policy, lack of respect for science and appointment of climate change deniers to high positions in the administration.

“To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger and its immediacy” said Rachel Bronson, the bulletin’s president and CEO in Washington.

Robert Rosner, the chair of the bulletin’s science and security board, states: “Our allies and adversaries alike are being forced [into a] thicket of conflicting policy statements from a US administration, weakened in its roster of foreign policy professionals and unable to develop, coordinate and clearly communicate a coherent foreign – much less nuclear policy … this inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management and global stability”.

Sharon Squassoni, of the George Washington University’s institute for international science and technology policy, points to Russia’s role in heightening tensions, for example applying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

A return to the “Cold War” of 1947–1990 is manifest, while global temperatures, sea level and extreme weather events keep rising.

Lawrence Krauss, the chair of the bulletin of the atomic scientists board of sponsors, states in his article “Donald Trump’s war on science”:

“This year, Breitbart hosted stories with titles such as ‘1001 Reasons Why Global Warming Is So Totally Over in 2016’ despite the fact that 2016 is now overwhelmingly on track to be the hottest year on record, beating 2015, which beat 2014, which beat 2013. Such stories do more than spread disinformation. Their purpose is the creation of an alternative reality—one in which scientific evidence is a sham—so that hyperbole and fearmongering can divide and conquer the public.”

This is despite the fact that global greenhouse gas emissions, melting of the ice caps, sea levels and extreme weather events, including hurricanes and wild fires, continue to rise.

Similar anomalies were reported by Hansen et al. (2012), stating:

“The distribution of seasonal mean temperature anomalies has shifted toward higher temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased. An important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations warmer than the climatology of the 1951–1980 base period. This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface during the base period, now typically covers about 10% of the land area.”.

According to Rahmstorf and Coumou (2011) (“Increase of extreme events in a warming world”): “We find that the number of record-breaking events increases approximately in proportion to the ratio of warming trend to short-term standard deviation”.

None of the above appears to trouble law-makers in the most heavily carbon polluting nations, including Australia, which has declined to support a proposed nuclear weapons ban and is in the process of opening coal mega-mines and exporting more than twice its domestic carbon consumption.

As stated by Jonathan Schell in the book “The Fate of the Earth”:

“The machinery of destruction is complete, poised on a hair trigger, waiting for the button to be pushed by some misguided or deranged human being or for some faulty computer chip to send out the instruction to fire. That so much should be balanced on so fine a point—that the fruit of four and a half billion years can be undone in a careless moment—is a fact against which belief rebels”.

The question is who or what will defend the realm.

Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleo-climate scientist, Australian National University

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2 Responses to ANDREW GLIKSON. 2.0 minutes to midnight on the clock of the atomic scientists.

  1. Paul Frijters says:

    ah yes, the doomsday clock. That’s been a real marketing bonanza for an otherwise obscure group of scientists. I believe the clock has never been further away from total doom than 12 minutes to midnight. Forgive me if I go on with my life as if this is no more than a piece of celebrity news that exists for my amusement. It is hard to keep up a state of supreme anxiety for 70 years. Bad for the heart, you know.

  2. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    I woke, this week, from a pre-dawn dream of childhood preoccupations – what it was like in the 1950s, being a schoolchild on Mornington Peninsula. Probably just a ‘back-to-school-week’ prompt from the unconscious exposed to a lot of media hype.
    The first 2 images which surfaced were: newspaper banners about the Hydrogen bomb! and a heavy leather strap, used to discipline primary school children.
    It got better: Biro pens, Coca Cola, ballerinas and ponies. But always, there were those headlines – following the Atom bombs in Japan – the ‘development’ of something worse: the hydrogen bomb. What’s changed?

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