Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Doomsday" Clock Closer to Midnight

After mentioning the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists last night, it shouldn't really be a surprise that they're in the news today. Keeping in mind that the "Doomsday" clock is primarily a symbol of the danger nuclear weapons pose to the world and that the purpose of the Bulletin is to alert people to changing conditions when it comes to nuclear weapons (and sometimes other problems), the magazine has moved the minute hand closer to midnight.

Here's the story from Tom Zeller Jr. of The New York Times:
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which 60 years ago began keeping tabs on humanity’s temporal distance from self-annihilation with the concept of a “Doomsday Clock,” apparently found things sufficiently dire to nudge the minute hand forward two clicks, indicating that we are now “five minutes to midnight” — or Doomsday.

(snip)

Rather than bore you with more exposition, however, we figured we’d we’d render a graphic for your viewing pleasure. So with no further ado, here’s a very rough sketch of how the experts interpreted our distance from the bitter end over the last 60 years....

Given the seriousness of what's going on, Zeller's sarcasm isn't particularly useful and doesn't reflect well on The New York Times. But take a look at the graph anyway.

Here's the announcement by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) is moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight. It is now 5 minutes to midnight. Reflecting global failures to solve the problems posed by nuclear weapons and the climate crisis, the decision by the BAS Board of Directors was made in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates.

BAS announced the Clock change today at an unprecedented joint news conference held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC, and the Royal Society in London. In a statement supporting the decision to move the hand of the Doomsday Clock, the BAS Board focused on two major sources of catastrophe: the perils of 27,000 nuclear weapons, 2000 of them ready to launch within minutes; and the destruction of human habitats from climate change. In articles by 14 leading scientists and security experts writing in the January-February issue of theBulletin of the Atomic Scientists (http://www.thebulletin.org), the potential for catastrophic damage from human-made technologies is explored further.

(snip)

By moving the hand of the Clock closer to midnight — the figurative end of civilization — the BAS Board of Directors is drawing attention to the increasing dangers from the spread of nuclear weapons in a world of violent conflict, and to the catastrophic harm from climate change that is unfolding. The BAS statement explains: "We stand at the brink of a Second Nuclear Age. Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices. North Korea’s recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a renewed emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth."

The BAS statement continues: "The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival."

Stephen Hawking, a BAS sponsor, professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of The Royal Society, said: "As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth. As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change."


From its inception, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has always had big names in the field of science associated with the organization. These issues must be taken seriously. The Bush Administration pays lip service to the issues but does a poor job of handling them. Many of Bush's Republican supporters explicitly refuse to take the issues seriously and have obstructed useful things that might have been done over the last six years. Leaving these issues to Bush and his Republican friends is something Americans cannot afford.

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