The so-called Doomsday Clock, which was created and is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as a way of communicating to the public the dangers facing the world, is now at just two minutes to midnight — following an update that moved the clock hands forward 30 seconds.
The factors for the unnerving position this time around are a bit different — a weak response to date regarding climate change mitigation; a breakdown of trust in institutions of various kinds; poor progress with regard to nuclear disarmament; and growing posturing with regard to the potential use of nuclear weapons are the primary reasons for the change.
It’s important to realize, though, that it’s really the combination of these factors that led to the change. Collectively, they represent a potent and growing threat to the maintenance of the modern world.
As explained by the chair of the BAS Board of Sponsors (and also director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University), Lawrence Krauss: “The danger of nuclear conflagration is not the only reason the clock has been moved forward, as my colleagues have described. This danger looms at a time when there’s been a loss of trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in facts themselves, all of which exacerbate the difficulty in dealing with the real problems the world faces, and which threaten to undermine the ability of governments to effectively deal with these problems.”
Those “real problems” include the growing intensity of climate warming and weirding — which has begun to pick up pace in recent years, seemingly owing to the activation of various positive feedback loops, and is now threatening to snowball to a civilization-destroying scale over only just the next few decades.
While so-called climate deniers (whether true skeptics or the paid and unconvinced trollish sort) often claim that there were predictions a decade or so ago by researchers that the world’s coastlines would be inundated by now; that crop yields would have collapsed by now; etc.; the reality is that almost all of the predictions made by climate researchers over the last few decades have been vast underestimates of what has by now occurred.
Pretty much the only predictions that have been proven true have been the most dire ones issued. Some of those coming from James Hansen in recent times, for instance, have been shown to be fairly accurate.
All of that said, my take on the situation based on many, many years of involvement with those working in politics and business around the world is that pretty much everyone in any position of power is aware of the situation as regards the climate, and is either: unwilling to change owing to loss of profit (most oil firms); figures it’s too late to do anything effective (probably many governments); or thinks that the situation can be turned to its advantage (many very likely delusional governments).
Unsurprisingly, this reality seems to feed into the “loss of trust in political institutions” mentioned above by the chair of the BAS Board of Sponsors. It should be stated bluntly here that if such a trend continues, it’s very likely to lead directly to large-scale warfare on a scale not seen anytime in the last century in many parts of the world (both as a means of releasing pressure, providing scapegoats and distractions, and securing new resource bases).
Two minutes to midnight indeed.
What awaits us over the next few decades other than further climate collapse, institutional distrust, social fraying, mass migrations, and resource competition? Continued soil erosion and nutrient depletion problems, further crop yield declines, increasing water scarcity, and a major world religion that seems to be approaching some sort of period of major influx and change similar to the one that hit Christianity numerous centuries ago and triggered the long series of gruesome wars that followed from the Reformation.
I should probably explain that last line here — I’m actually quite a religious person myself, and have a very positive opinion of many of the strains of Islam, but none of that negates the fact that there is a growing hardline minority pushing an austere and expansionary form of the religion.
Many of those reading this are probably unaware of just how gruesome and “uncivilized” the European wars that accompanied the splitting of the continent down Protestant and Catholic lines actually were.
A look at the behavior of Swedish (and other) mercenaries against civilians in what’s now Germany during the Thirty Years’ War should give one a basic starting point for enquiry. It should also be noted that these wars were supported and stoked to a degree by major foreign powers such the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Tsardom (the US and Russia have of course been supporting and stoking conflict in the Middle East for quite a while now). Also noteworthy is that the wars more or less kicked off the “witch-hunting” frenzy of the times (a lot of the “witches” were men, not just women) — unsurprising, as when times are tough and your whole world and way of life is collapsing, it’s great to have someone to blame.
It’s just such a situation that now seems to be beginning to unfold in parts of the Islamic world, spurred on by growing food and water scarcity, and declining oil production.
To use Syria as an example, peak oil in the country occurred a number of years before the current conflict began, with accompanying food supply and work problems leading directly to a migration from rural areas to urban ones, and thus increasing conflict between disparate groups separated along ethnic and religious lines.
Back to the BAS’ Science and Security Board Doomsday Clock, though. … One of the reasons cited in the recent change was the upgrading of nuclear arsenals in various parts of South Asia and the Middle East. One thing that has genuinely changed in recent centuries (since the Reformation) is the advent of nuclear weaponry, which could well make for a much rougher round of wars this time around the human-insanity merry-go-round.
This is exacerbated by ongoing conflict between world powers such as the US and Russia — which are not currently involved in nuclear arms control negotiations — which may seek to utilize conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere as proxy wars. This significantly ups the risk of further escalation.
Rather than drag this out further, I’ll just end things here by noting that atmospheric greenhouse gas levels seem to be rising at an ever faster rate every year … despite official emissions levels remaining nearly flat.
The thing that’s interesting in that regard is that we’ve known about anthropogenic climate change for (at least) roughly as long as the Doomsday Clock has even been around. Those wanting a further discussion of that subject, I’ll direct to this article here: Edward Teller Warned Oil Industry About Carbon Dioxide & Climate Change 6 Decades Ago.
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