The ‘Doomsday Clock’ Goes Back To 6 Minutes To Midnight

Turn Back The ClockCiting a more “hopeful state of world affairs” in relation to the twin threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) is moving the minute hand of its famous Doomsday Clock one minute away from midnight. It is now 6 minutes to midnight. The decision by the BAS Science and Security Board was made in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel Laureates

BAS announced the Clock change today at a news conference in New York City broadcast live at Turn Back The Clock for viewing around the globe. The new BAS Web platform allows people in all nations to monitor and get involved in efforts to move the Doomsday Clock farther away from midnight.

In a statement supporting the decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock, the BAS Board said: “It is 6 minutes to midnight. We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons. For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material. And 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. These unprecedented steps are signs of a growing political will to tackle the two gravest threats to civilization — the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change.”

Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted only 18 times prior to today, most recently in January 2007 and February 2002 after the events of 9/11. By moving the hand of the Clock away from midnight — the figurative end of civilization — the BAS Board of Directors is drawing attention to encouraging signs of progress. At the same time, the small increment of the change reflects both the threats that remain around the globe and the danger that governments may fail to deliver on pledged actions on reducing nuclear weapons and mitigating climate change.

The BAS statement explains: “This hopeful state of world affairs leads the boards of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — which include 19 Nobel laureates — to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back from five to six minutes to midnight. By shifting the hand back from midnight by only one additional minute, we emphasize how much needs to be accomplished, while at the same time recognizing signs of collaboration among the United States, Russia, the European Union, India, China, Brazil, and others on nuclear security and on climate stabilization.”

The statement continues: “A key to the new era of cooperation is a change in the U.S. government’s orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of Obama. With a more pragmatic, problem-solving approach, 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 U.S. government to lead a global effort to secure loose fissile material in four years. He also presided over the U.N. Security Council last September where he supported a fissile material cutoff treaty and encouraged all countries to live up to their disarmament and nonproliferation obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty…”

Lawrence Krauss, co-chair, BAS Board of Sponsors, foundation professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics departments, associate director, Beyond Center, co-director, Cosmology Initiative, and director, New Origins Initiative, Arizona State University, said: “The time to begin to free ourselves from the terror of nuclear weapons and to slow drastic changes to our shared global environment is now. We encourage scientists to fulfill their dual responsibilities of increasing their own, as well as the public’s understanding of these issues and to help lead the call to action. We urge leaders to fulfill the promise of a nuclear weapon-free world and to act now to slow the pace of climate change. Finally, we call on citizens everywhere to raise their voices and compel public action for a safer world now and for future generations. Even though we are encouraged by recent developments, we are mindful of the fact that the Clock is ticking.”

Stephen Schneider, member, BAS Science and Security Board, professor of environmental biology and global change, Stanford University, co-director, Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and senior fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said: “We can no longer prevent global warming — it is upon us. Rapidly melting polar icecaps, acidification of the oceans, loss of coral reefs, longer droughts, more devastating wildfires, and sea level rise that threatens island nations and seacoasts everywhere are clear signs of change in Earth’s climate. Disruptions of the monsoon seasons in India and China already threaten crop yields resulting in more frequent and severe food shortages than in the recent past … If we continue ‘business as usual’ our habitat could be disrupted beyond recognition, with consequences for our way of life that we cannot now foresee. Without vigorous and immediate follow-up to the
Copenhagen conference and well-conceived action we are all threatened by accelerating and irreversible changes to our planet…”

Jayantha Dhanapala, member, BAS Board of Sponsors, president, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and chair, 1995 UN Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Conference, said: “In the saga of human history civilizations have been threatened both by natural causes and by man-made folly. Some have survived by making the necessary rational responses to the challenges. Others have gone under leaving only their ruins. Today it is the entire planet that stands imperiled by the danger of nuclear weapons and the real risk of climate change inexorably threatening our ecosystem. Both impending disasters are within our capabilities to remedy. The opportunity must be seized now out of a recognition that these are global dangers that transcend national boundaries.”

Pervez Hoodbhoy, member, BAS Board of Sponsors, professor of high energy physics, and head, Physics Department, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, said: “We may be at a turning point, where major powers realize that nuclear weapons are useless for war-fighting or even for deterrence. Threats to security are more likely to come from economic collapse, groups bent on terrorizing civilians, or from resource scarcity exacerbated by climate change and exploding populations, rather than from conflict between nuclear-armed superpowers. Against these new threats, nuclear weapons are a liability because their possession by a few countries stimulates desire in other countries and complicates things immensely.”

Kennette Benedict, executive director, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “The emerging trends in international cooperation will provide a basis for collaborative problem-solving for a safer world. But a handful of government officials, no matter how bold their vision, will not be able, on their own, to deal with the threats to civilization that we now face. Leaders and citizens around the world will need to summon the courage to overcome obstacles to nuclear security and climate protection. That is why we have created TurnBackTheClock.org to allow citizens around the world a means by which to get involved and to inspire leaders to take action.”

RECOMMENDED ACTION STEPS

The BAS statement outlines the need for action on the following:

* Developing new nuclear doctrines that disavow the use of existing nuclear weapons, reduce the launch readiness of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, and remove them from the day-to-day operations of their militaries;

* Finishing the job of consolidating and securing military and civilian nuclear material in Russia, the United States, and elsewhere and continuing to eliminate the excess;

* Completing negotiations, signing and ratifying as soon as possible the new U.S.-Russia treaty providing for reductions in deployed nuclear warheads and delivery systems;

* Upon signing of the treaty, immediately embarking upon new talks to further reduce the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States;

* Completing the next review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in May 2010 with commitments to weapons reduction and nuclear nonproliferation by both the nuclear haves and have-nots;

* Implementing multinational management of the civilian nuclear energy fuel cycle with strict standards for safety, security, and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, including eliminating reprocessing for plutonium separation;

* Strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency’s capacity to oversee nuclear materials and technology development and transfer;

* Adopting and fulfilling climate change agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through tax incentives, harmonized domestic regulation and practice;

* Transforming the coal power sector of the world economy to retire older plants; and

* Vastly increasing public and private investments in alternatives to carbon-emitting energy sources, such as solar and wind, and in technologies for energy storage, and sharing the results worldwide.

ABOUT BAS AND THE CLOCK

Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists subsequently created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 as a way to convey both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made by the Bulletin’s Board of Directors in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel Laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences.

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