The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been maintaining the Doomsday Clock since 1947. When the clock started running, it was set at seven minutes to midnight. The closest the Doomdsay Clock got to midnight was in 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both tested hydrogen bombs. That year, the clock was set at two minutes to midnight. In 1949 they set the clock at 3 minutes before midnight, after the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb, taking the Cold War to new depths.
They have set the Doomsday Clock once again at three minutes to midnight.
As an article in NPR notes, “Despite the progress represented by the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate summit, the BAS says rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia, conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, North Korea’s recent nuclear test, as well as nuclear modernization by a number of countries, including the U.S., has offset the positive work achieved in the past year.”
And then there’s climate change. The Atomic Scientists running the Doomsday Clock have started to consider climate change as a present threat to humanity. Their editor wrote in their issue of January 2, 2016, “Carbon emissions must decrease quickly, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the world is to avoid “severe, widespread, and irreversible [climate] impacts.” Other factors they consider include killer robots, the escape of lethal pathogens from laboratories and Ebola and other zoonotic diseases that ‘threaten humanity.’
As their website notes, the number of nuclear warheads has dropped from 64,449 in 1986 to 10,215 in 2013. Such a pity that climate change miraculously appeared on their horizon in 2010, just in time to keep us tied firmly so close to midnight. As their website also notes, sea levels have risen 2.24 inches since 1997 and temperatures have risen about 1 degree Celsius since 1850. The average minimum value for Arctic ice was 7.85 million square kilometers in 1980 and that minimum is now 5.02 million square kilometers.
Somehow that doesn’t seem as threatening as hydrogen bombs controlled by Leonid Brezhnev. And given that we have seen very little in the way of impacts–there is no increase in global drought or heatwaves, precipitation is unchanged and only flooding seems to be causing more damage–it almost feels like the Atomic Scientists suddenly pronounced themselves climate scientists instead and pounced on the new sexy issue that would keep them in the news. Nah, couldn’t happen.
I think that we should consider carefully–if climate change, which I accept is happening and I accept we are contributing to, is really the biggest problem humanity faces, what a joyous time to be alive!
After all, the IPCC does not think that climate change will pose a dire threat to humanity. Neither does the Stern Report. All of those who have tried to calculate the financial costs of climate change come back with a relatively modest percentage of global GDP.
Come to think of it, I’m not worried about killer robots either.