The Doomsday Clock and Our Great Good Fortune

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.



7 responses to “The Doomsday Clock and Our Great Good Fortune

  1. Please don’t mention the stern report, it was based on Finnish engineering expertise.

  2. Is it human nature to turn a blind eye to good news? I certainly think that western cultures do harm to everyone by endlessly pouring scorn on our countries despite many, many beneficial improvements. Instead of painting a picture of a great culture that others should aspire to, we dwell on what we do wrong all the time. I recognise the irony of moaning about moaning.

    In a way, until any planetary species invents interplanetary settlement, we will and always were 1 ms to midnight. The natural way the dinosaurs lived was hardly a defence. The tools (including ambition) to spur mankind to another planet or to destroy meteorites, are inherently dangerous but without them we are doomed. The same man made things that threaten us, make us safe from something else.

    Perhaps there should be a count your blessings clock.

  3. The other thing that irks me about considering AGW on the doomsday clock is the annoying habit of warmists to assume that action is now or never. There is no substantial difference between moderate action now and agressive action later. We would almost certainly be more motivated and more realistic if we were all sure that the hazards were real.

  4. So instead of holding Mr. Obama to task for his amazing ability to fiddle with the climate obsession while the world becomes more dangerous the fear mongers join the apocalyptic climate consensus blues.

  5. Come to think of it, I’m not worried about killer robots either.

    How about Earth-swallowing giant intergalactic star goats?

    I must say that after October 24 1962 when we didn’t bother having any lessons at school because it wasn’t clear that there was any point any more, I have been somewhat sanguine about all these professional alarmists with their chicken little prognostications.

    Now, THAT was really scary, far more than a few ppm of CO2.

    • Noooooo! I’d just managed to forget about the Earth-swallowing giant intergalactic star goats. Back to therapy 😉

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