Many of you have probably never heard of the existence of the Doomsday clock. In fact, it’s been around since 1947, when the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) created it, as a means of measuring how close we are to the end-of-the-world.
Since its debut, and during the height of the Cold War between the United States and its communist antagonist, the now defunct Soviet Union (USSR), the minute hand was moved closer or further away from midnight depending on which way the political winds were blowing. The closest the clock came to Doomsday was 1953, when the U.S. and the USSR each exploded a hydrogen bomb. In response, the BAS measured the time as 3 minutes to midnight.
At the end of the Cold War, the BAS timekeepers moved the minute hand back a full seven minutes, to 17 minutes before midnight. In the year 2000, a complete catastrophe occurred which caused the BAS scientist-timekeepers to once again move the minute hand closer to midnight: the election of George W. Bush.
Although we came perilously close to annihilation with Bush’s election and his subsequent re-election, the recent ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency–whom BAS scientists have praised for helping avert both a nuclear war and an environmental catastrophe–has given the BAS the comfort level to move the minute hand once again, from five minutes to midnight, to six minutes to midnight:
It is six minutes to midnight…for the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are co-operating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material…for the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable…[with the election of Barack Obama] a change in the US government’s orientation toward international affairs [have brought] a more pragmatic, problem-solving approach than his predecessor.
According to the BAS, not only has Obama initiated new arms reduction talks with Russia, he has started negotiations with Iran to close its nuclear enrichment program, and directed the US Government to lead a global effort to secure loose fissile material in four years (mind you, nothing has come of any of these efforts, but no matter).
The BAS action is a result of their confidence in Obama, and in his ability to solve the issues it deems to be the gravest threats to civilization as we know it: nuclear weapons and global warming/climate change.
BAS scientists are urging the president to act at once to adopt the following measures:
- Completing negotiations, signing and ratifying the new U.S.-Russia treaty providing for reductions in deployed nuclear warheads and delivery systems.
- Adopting and fulfilling climate-change agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
- Transforming the coal power sector of the world economy to retire older plants and to require in new plants the capture and storage of the carbon dioxide they produce. BAS scientists also encourage much greater investment in developing alternatives to carbon-emitting energy sources, such as solar and wind, and in technologies for energy storage, and sharing these results worldwide.
Obama would do well to take heed of these recommendations, as the BAS controls the minute hand.