The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced on 23 January that it’s set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight. This means that the clock, which symbolises “the gravest perils facing humankind, is now closer to midnight than at any point since its creation in 1947”.
Midnight equals Armageddon: the end of days for humanity. And this is the first time those who control the clock have started dealing in seconds.
There are several reasons the scientists have taken us closer to the brink than we’ve ever been before. And they’re the two existential threats of nuclear annihilation and the climate crisis, which have both been exacerbated by “cyber-enabled information warfare”.
“The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode,” the Bulletin makes clear in its press release.
The Doomsday Clock was created by the Chicago Atomic Scientists to warn humanity about the risks of nuclear weapons following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This group of scientists was part of the Manhattan Project, which was a US-led effort that produced the first nuclear bombs.
And while the Bulletin also suggests solutions as to how humanity can pull itself out of these predicaments, doing so would likely depend on the 1 percent curtailing its interests, and as Oxfam’s annual wealth report revealed last week, this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.
100 seconds to midnight
Bulletin board member Professor Sharon Squassoni told a press conference that the Doomsday Clock was set back in November, prior to recent military actions between the US and Iran, as well as North Korea’s abandonment of nuclear talks with the United States.
Squassoni further explained that the time set shows we’re “rapidly losing our bearings in a nuclear weapons landscape that may expand beyond our recognition. And recent events only confirm” this.
While the threat of nuclear weapons might sound like some distant throwback to the Cold War, writing in The Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel sets out that the reason it’s so problematic right now is that the “edifice of arms control is being dismantled”.
As of last August, president Trump has completely pulled out of the INF Treaty, which ensured the US and Russia banned intermediate land-based nuclear missiles. This leaves the New START nuclear reduction treaty between them, however it expires in a year’s time and its renewal is uncertain.
And the Trump administration is also threatening to pull out of the Treaty on Open Skies, which provides that 35 state parties can take unarmed aerial surveillance flights over each other’s territories, which allows the US and Russia to monitor the other’s nuclear arsenal.
Our warming planet
The Doomsday Clock was set to two minutes to midnight in 2018, which is where it remained last year. This was the closest the minute hand had ever been to twelve, and it represented the two dual threats of nuclear destruction and changing climate.
As far as the IPCC is concerned, humanity has until 2030 to seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees. And while the UN body said that in October 2018, these climate predictions keep getting more dire as the situation progresses.
At last week’s press conference, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists pulled up bushfire-stricken Australia for special mention in relation to the climate crisis.
“The Australian government is in utter and complete denial. Under its current leadership, Australia is fostering denial in an incredibly mendacious way,” said Bulletin board executive chair Jerry Brown. “Until Australians throw out their current leaders, they will continue this way.”
And the Bulletin’s not the only one calling out our nation either. The journal Nature recently ran an editorial where it described the Australian government dragging its feet on climate, due to its repeated prioritising of “the coal industry’s needs over the planets”.
Bulletin chair Robert Rosner told reporters that what’s of “particular concern is the undermining of the public’s ability to sort what’s true from what’s patently false by information warfare subverting our ability to arrive at a consensus on the solutions needed to achieve positive change”.
And according to the Bulletin scientists, it’s “cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns” that are exacerbating the nuclear and climate threats by undermining efforts to bring about the changes needed to draw back from the brink.
British social activist George Monbiot posited last month that the reason why reactionary politicians, such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, have triumphed in recent elections is that online campaigning systems have been developed that influence the public with “provocative lies”.
So, so going on Monbiot’s reasoning, those benefiting financially from the fossil fuel and arms industries are manipulating mainstream and social media messaging to persuade “the poor to vote for the interests of the very rich”, which translates as politicians conducting business as usual.
End extreme wealth
And this is the crux of the matter, the systems that are perpetuating the threats the Bulletin has pinpointed as threatening life as we know it are benefiting the 1 percent, which is continuing to grow more powerful.
Oxfam released its latest annual report just three days before the Doomsday announcement. And the Time to Care report found that the 1 percent now own twice as much as 6.9 billion people. And as there’s just over 7.7 billion people on Earth, that’s almost the entire planet’s population.
The charity organisation states that “governments are massively under-taxing the wealthiest individuals and corporations and failing to collect revenues that could help lift the responsibility of care from women and tackle poverty and inequality”.
Oxfam recommends ending extreme wealth in order to end extreme poverty. And considering the nuclear and climate threats are mainly caused by the very rich pursuing more wealth, it can be asserted that changing the paradigm from unhindered economic growth could save humanity.
As the thing with the Doomsday Clock is, the scientists can always turn back time.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.