TWO MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

TWO MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

Five… Three… Two… The hypothetical Doomsday Clock continues its countdown. In 2016 it was at only three minutes to midnight, because of the rising hostility between superpowers that created more advanced nuclear weapons.

Experts brought the Clock at three minutes to midnight just a few after the Paris Agreement was settled. And on January 24, 2019, evaluating last year’s events, the clock was updated, showing last year’s status quo – at only 2 minutes to midnight.

THE MEASURE OF EMERGENCY

“Though unchanged from 2018, this setting should be taken not as a sign of stability but as a stark warning to leaders and citizens around the world,” Rachel Bronson, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) president and CEO, said in a statement.

The Doomsday Clock was originally conceived in 1947 by a cadre of former Manhattan Project physicists, and was meant to symbolically picture how close humans were to nuclear annihilation.

“It’s not an exact measure and it’s also combining several things. It was perhaps much easier when they started, when it was just nuclear war, but since then we have gained other existential risks,” said philosopher Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford in England) to Live Science.

While humanity might indeed run out of time – and options – before it makes the necessary changes and enact successful international cooperation on pressing matters – such as climate change or another nuclear war, the Doomsday Clock is also subject of debates and controversies.

“Having authorities state that an emergency is at hand is an effective way to gain someone’s attention and have them primed to take immediate action, which is the logic behind the clock’s minutes-to-midnight gambit. Asking successive generations of people to sustain a constant sense of emergency is a contradiction in terms. The unintended effects of this directive can impede a successful resolution of the issue at hand and undermine the working relationship between experts and nonexperts,” thinks Katherine Pandora (researcher on the history of science at the University of Oklahoma).

ARE WE TURNING BACK THE CLOCK?

“The longer world leaders and citizens thoughtlessly inhabit this abnormal reality, the more likely it is that we will experience the unthinkable,” former California Gov. Jerry Brown, BAS executive chair, said in the statement.

Climate change is advancing, while ocean temperatures have reached a peak since the 1950 and the ice sheets in the Artic, the Antarctic and Greenland are vanishing at a faster pace than anticipated. Also, vast deposits of soil-stored carbon may be released into the atmosphere, accelerating the process.

Susan Solomon (BAS board member and professor of Environmental Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) said the United States show “gross negligence” by failing to curb CO2 emissions, while investing into fossil fuels infrastructure.

While in 1991, the Clock’s hands were at 17 minutes to midnight – which was due to ending the Cold War and reducing nuclear arsenals – we can still turn back the clock.

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