The Doomsday Clock

So a piece of news that floated out today was that the Doomsday Clock was advanced to 2.5 minutes until midnight:

We are creeping closer to the apocalypse, according to a panel of scientists and scholars.

The Chicago-based Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic countdown to the end of the world, to two and a half minutes to midnight.

It marks the first time since 1953 — after hydrogen bomb tests in the US and then Soviet Union — that humanity has been this close to global disaster.

The group cited US President Donald Trump’s “disturbing comments” about the use of nuclear weapons and views on climate change among other factors, including cyberthreats and the rise in nationalism, that have contributed to the darkened forecast.

“The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days,” the organization said in a statement.

I’ve trying to sugarcoat this but there is simply is no way to do so. So I’ll just be blunt: any clock that thinks the world is closer to doomsday now than we were in the past is a clock that is badly in need of repair.

According to the BAS, we are in greater danger than we have been since 1953. Let’s look over that 64-year span and take a year almost at random: 1962. In October of 1962, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. The world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. At that time, one side was run by a drunken mass murderer and the other was run by a novice President taking enough medication to stock a drug store. And yet the Doomsday Clock was left at seven minutes to midnight at a time when we were almost literally seven minutes away from Armageddon.

Oh, it gets better. In 1962, the United States was on the brink of starting its long bloody involvement in Vietnam. There were active civil wars going on in Laos, Sudan, the Congo, Yemen, Guatemala, Burma, Malaysia and Nicaragua as well as Communist insurgencies in other countries. By contrast, today is literally the most peaceful era in human history with fewer national and domestic armed conflicts than we’ve ever had as well as less violent crime. Blood and tears may dominate the news. But for most of human history, they dominated everyone’s life. It’s not just 1962 that was more dangerous. It’s almost every year up until the present.

The BAS says that their clock has advanced, at least in part, because of concerns about the environment (which muddies the original purpose of the clock). But is the environment worse now than it was when half the planet was starving, cars were belching lead into the air and our rivers were so polluted they could literally catch fire? By every standard that can be measured — with the exception of greenhouse gases — our planet is better off now than it was 50 years ago. Or 40 years ago. Or 30 years ago. Smog is down, sulphur dioxide is down, species are rebounding to the point of being taken off the endangered list, the ozone layer is healing, etc., etc. And even global warming isn’t hopeless, Trump or no Trump. Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States have fallen in recent years. Greenhouse intensity — that is emissions per economic dollar — is plunging.

I don’t mean to downplay the challenges we face. We still have enough nuclear weapons to ignite a cataclysmic holocaust. And global warming is a very real challenge. Nor do I mean to downplay the concerns about a Trump Administration, many of which I share. But to pretend that the world is closer to annihilation that it was during the last century is an idea that is simply not supported by the facts at hand. All it does is make the Doomsday Clock even more irrelevant.

(More from Tom Nichols.)

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One Response to “The Doomsday Clock”

  1. […] Yesterday, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the “Doomsday Clock” to 2.5 minutes to midnight. This is utterly meaningless. […]