The Bulletin of the Atomic scientists, including 15 Nobel laureates, has moved the minute hand 30 seconds closer to Armageddon. There are grave concerns over North Korea, NATO Vs Russia, tensions in the South China Sea, war in the Middle East, global failure to act effectively on climate change and the use of technologies as weapons to weaken democracies.
Piers: There is an organization called The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It’s a bunch of scientists, who basically rate the risk of nuclear warfare and Armageddon on the earth. They do this using various metrics. They look at it regularly.
John: It’s been going since about 1945.
Piers: I think it has, yeah. It was founded back in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists that helped developed the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. Thebulletin.org is the web address if you want to have a look at this. They created the doomsday clock a couple of years later, in 1947 using the imagery of the apocalypse, midnight, 12:00 o’clock. And the contemporary idiom to move nuclear explosion countdown to zero to convey threats to humanity and the planet.
The decision to move or to live in place the minute hand of the doomsday clock is made every year by the Bulletin Science and Security Board in consultation with its board of sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates.
The clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapon, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains.
John: And it’s not a single direction. It can go either way. When times are bad, it moves close to midnight, but if times are good it can move further away.
Piers: That’s right. That’s right.
They’ve moved it 30 seconds closer to midnight. We’re now two minutes to midnight. We were two and a half minutes to midnight a year ago.
That incidentally, is the closest that this clock has been to nuclear Armageddon since the second world war. Essentially since they created this-
Piers: Basically when they’re actually actively using nuclear weapons in Japan in an aggressive way.
The reasons. North Korea is first on the list that comes to mind. They say that North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea itself, as well as other countries in the region and the United States.
They also say that it’s quite hyperbolic, rhetoric, and provocative actions by both sides, North Korea and the United States, have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.
John: Just look at Hawaii recently, where they had the testing, which was messages sent out to everyone on the island. They thought that there was an incoming missile.
Piers: They thought it was real.
John: That it was for real. Had someone had their finger on the trigger to send a rocket back, this is where we have devastation. Complete devastation.
Piers: And apparently it was absolute pandemonium. It was an error. It was a drill or it was a test of a public alert system. In the event of a nuclear attack or missile coming in. But they were actually able to get the message out until quite a while had gone by that, no, this is just a drill. That actually said, “This is not a drill.”
John: It said that this is not a test, on the message. People were freaking out.
Piers: Other ares apart from North Korea, Russian, NATO, and USA relations are also cited as an area where nuclear risks have been evident and escalated in 2017. The US and Russia remain at odds and continue military exercises along the borders of NATO, between eastern Europe and Russia. There is even some thought they’re upgrading their nuclear arsenals and eschewing arms control negotiations.
In the Asia Pacific regions, tensions are brewing over the South China Sea China has been building these artificial reefs there and putting in basically military equipment, long airstrips, which their air forces can use. And their ships can pull into port. It’s a very, very heavily trafficked area for world trade. A lot of countries, not just the US, but a lot of neighboring countries, Japan, Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, are quite disturbed about what’s going on the South China Sea in recent times.
That area is cited as a flash point and has contributed to the decision to move the minute hand to two minutes to midnight, 30 seconds closer than a year ago.
South Asia, Pakistan, and India are ever larger arsenals of nuclear weapons. In the Middle East, uncertainty about continued US support for the Iranian nuclear deal, which was brokered by Barack Obama, the previous president of the United States. That adds to a bleak overall picture. You just have to look at what’s happening in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, to Libya and Yemen to know that it’s a pretty unstable and unsafe part of the world.
They also cite climate change.
John: Well, look at South Africa at the moment. Capetown’s going to run out of water in a couple of months. This is a significant issue because they’ve got rationing of water. I think they’ve got two months of water left. So it will be the fight for water in generations to come. Maybe even within our lifetime, they’ll be even more cities, which are starved for water. None left, droughts. It’s an issue, not just from climate change but it’s a growing population using more water as well. But climate change is a significant factor.
Piers: Absolutely. We’ve talked about this in our podcast with David Karoly on our website. He’s a climate scientist at Melvin University. He advised the United Nations on that big Paris.
John: Paris Accord.
Piers: And we’ve got podcasts. If you go to our website, you can look him up under interviews with David Karoly. It came up in the discussion with him that the link between population growth and pressure on climate and environments. The two are inextricably linked.
John: On the climate change front, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is saying that global carbon dioxide emissions have not yet showing the beginnings of the sustained decline towards zero that must occur if ever greater waring is to be avoided.
Piers: Another are that they talk about is technological change, disrupting democracies around the world. You just have to look at what was done using Facebook and using some social media platforms to feed out fake news, to hack into databases of both sides-
John: Influence from foreign parties, yeah.
Piers: It’s a pretty hot issue and it’s what’s being investigated by Mueller, over in American the special investigation into whether the Trump administration, whether President Trump actually directly benefited and even possibly knowingly benefited from Russian interference in that election. The Bulletin says that technological changes, disrupting democracies around the world, as states seek and exploit opportunities to use information technologies as weapons. Among them internet based deception campaigns and undermining elections and popular confidence in institutions essential to free thought and global security.
Piers: Zeroing more on closer to home, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the website is the bulletin.org. They say quote “A breakdown in international order that has been dangerously exaserbated by recent uS actions has occurred. In 2017 the United States backed away from its long standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict US actions, or understand when US pronouncements are real and when they are mere rhetoric.”
We know exactly what they’re talking about with that. The old Twitter button that POTUS seems to have his hand don pretty regularly.
Pretty disturbing stuff there from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The doomsday clock being set to two minutes to midnight, 30 seconds closer than a year ago, and the closest it’s been to midnight, being nuclear Armageddon, since World War II.