It is now 2 minutes to midnight on the actual Doomsday Clock — the hypothetical but no less menacing hands that tick closer and closer to humankind’s self-made destruction — if you ask the Science and Security Board's Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS).
“We saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and re-learned that minimizing evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies,” president and CEO Rachel Branson said in a statement of what drove the Bulletin’s decision to wind the clock forward 30 seconds after the chaos that was 2017.
Nuclear weapons are what Branson fears to be the most glaring threat at the dawn of a bleak new year. We are on the edge of a nuclear arms race that could ramp up the devastation of war to something out of a post-apocalyptic movie, except there are no film reels you can rewind in reality. The hyperbole and dread regarding what North Korea and other nations may or may not have hangs over us like a gathering storm. Stashes of nuclear weapons, not to mention the gargantuan investments that have gone into them, are frighteningly real, and so is the intent to unleash them. Momentum gains toward a potential nuclear apocalypse that could devastate the planet.
Impending mushroom clouds are far from the only thing that make the BAS nervous. Climate change, especially when faced by brazen science deniers, has also moved the invisible minute hand forward. This is a more insidious phenomenon. Bill Nye gets it:
Global warming may not seem to be an immediate threat now, as your Twitter feed may tell you, but will flash its teeth too late unless we take urgent measures to reverse it. Carbon dioxide emissions keep degrading our ozone layer over time until someday, the population of Earth finds it is too late to avoid vaporized seas and blasts of killer radiation.
“The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge,” the BAS warned.
Not only are tangible dangers creeping up on us, but the public seems to have lost all trust in science, in political institutions, and in media outlets spewing fake news and alternative facts. Hack jobs and twisted information shroud the truth about change gravely needed in public policy while the corporate leaders who rule the internet have hardly taken action to prevent misuse of Google and Facebook and any other source of information that may be convincing enough to the billions who log on to their laptops and smartphones every day.
The Doomsday Clock is not irreversible. Though the minute hand has not been this close to zero hour since the Cold War, the Science and Security Board intends it to be an alert for both world leaders and citizens to take action in any way possible. Nuclear missiles can stay dormant. Ozone depletion can be paused and even turned around. Hashtags and buzzwords can change by the minute. This is a human problem that can only be solved by human ethics.
“The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past,” the BAS urged. “The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now: #rewindtheDoomsdayClock.”
To the leaders who have this precarious situation on the verge of shattering in their hands, please don’t let these be famous last words.