Reading Room

Saturday, January 27, 2018
Posted by Brendan Phillips

The specter of self-destruction once again looms over the world. Scientists associated with The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board have moved the Doomsday Clock’s hands to two minutes before midnight; an estimation of risk unsurpassed, even at the height of the Cold War.

Failure of world leaders, particularly within the United States, to effectively respond to new nuclear threats has made the possibility of a thermonuclear exchange far more likely. The current US president has repeatedly disparaged our allies while pursuing a policy of economic nationalism. In addition, our president has responded to North Korea’s nuclear testing with his own bellicose rhetoric; exacerbating an already pugilistic relationship between the two countries.

Correspondingly, the deterioration of relations between the United States and Russia have continued, with both nations alleging (with credibility) violations to the INF Treaty against the other. Moreover, the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review includes plans for the development of new nuclear weapons, and new methods to deliver them, with the express belief that such initiatives will enhance our nation’s safety and security, and forestall the aggression of others. One needs only a basic knowledge of human nature to understand these measures will have the opposite of their intended effects, and will lead nations with a hostile relationship to ours to build their nuclear arsenal in response.

On the front of climate change, the US response has been exceedingly inadequate in addressing the very real threat our burning of fossil fuels has on ecosystems on which we depend. Donald Trump is a well-known “skeptic” of anthropomorphic climate change, who, in addition to defecting from the Paris Climate Agreement, has made support of fossil fuel industries a focal point of his national policy. This setback to our meager attempts to curtail the warming of the troposphere looks pretty grim, especially for younger generations, who face a lifetime of augmented storms and failing ecosystems. The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board certainly thought so, as global climate change was listed as the second major factor in its analysis.

For all who care about our future, these developments should be a wakeup call. We have been remiss in our civic duties as citizens, and have allowed pernicious political influences to destabilize the country in which we live. Changing our future for the better will require us to cast off the political apathy that has long pervaded American life. Let us all work toward a time in which the Bulletin can move the Clock’s hands safely back from the midnight hour.

Click here to read the full Doomsday Clock statement of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists