On Thursday the 25th of January 2018, the metaphorical device known as the Doomsday Clock was shifted forward by thirty seconds to stand at just two minutes to midnight, the closest the hands of the clock have ever been to midnight. This is the closest they’ve been since 1953 during the height of the Cold War when the United States and the Soviet Union were testing their hydrogen bomb arsenal. Factors such as growing nuclear tension between the West and the East, climate change and increased terrorism led the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) to this frightening decision.
The Doomsday Clock was founded in 1945 by the University of Chicago by scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project where men and women worked secretly in the desert of Los Alamos, New Mexico to finally end the war. Every year the BAS analyse global fluctuations to decide which way the small hand of the metaphorical clock will go. Last year was deemed such a tumultuous one in terms of political and social upheaval that it garnered the Bulletin’s decision to push the clock forward yet again. In an official statement on Thursday, the President and CEO of the Bulletin said that “in 2017, we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations.”
The fact that the BAS whose board of sponsors includes fifteen Nobel laureates has decided to thrust the hands of the clock ever forward to figurative annihilation showcases how dismal our current political climate truly is. Although used as a metaphorical instrument, this emblematic clairvoyant’s message should not be taken lightly. The world, at this very moment, is in a state of drastic upheaval whether it be through climate change, political backpedaling, growing tensions between the West and the East or the increased number of terrorist attacks throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Climate change is arguably the most ruinous in terms of its global ramifications. According to the Earth System Research Laboratory, in December of last year the level of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere was a staggering four hundred and six parts per million. Compare this to 1960 when the CO2 level was just under 320 parts per million. This may seem sufficiently grave but Earth’s oceans are the one of the biggest worries for many environmental scientists. The deep sea acts as a kind of sink, ‘sponging’ up the noxious amounts of carbon produced through the burning of fossil fuels. This in turn affects aquatic organisms and huge sections of coral reef which are worth millions in terms of food sourcing, the maintenance of aquatic ecosystems and tourist destinations to dozens of countries. The rate of increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere is not a straight line, it is a curve, meaning of course, that the rate of increase is itself increasing.
Naturally climate change has noticeable effects on everyday civilian life. Through a global increase of one degree Celsius, we are beginning to experience much more severe weather conditions. The flooding of the River Seine being a current example. According to Business Insider, rainfall totals have been double the normal amount this winter in the city of Paris and threaten many historical monuments, museums and wine cellars. These kind of bizarre weather patterns are undoubtedly due to climate change with 2017 being the warmest year on record without the warming effect of El Niño which is a cycle that “describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific” (NOAA, 2017). Similar to the current political climate, the world’s climate is under immense strain with extremes becoming more common than ever before.
Perhaps it is the political back-pedalling and upheaval in recent months that has been one of the biggest contributors to this symbolic device’s prophetic conclusion. With the likes of Brexit, the election of Trump and heightening tensions between the United States and North Korea it is easy to imagine ourselves inching ever closer to global annihilation. Once revered and respected values are now being torn down only to be replaced by a dangerous and hateful rhetoric in which only some are created equal. The potential for worldwide destruction has now, unfortunately, become more probable than ever before with unpredictable leaders increasing their respective nuclear arsenals.
Since the creation of nuclear weaponry the world has been under considerable risk of total obliteration, yet never before has the risk been so great according to the Board of the Atomic Scientists and the Doomsday Clock. The great physicist Richard Feynman was involved in the creation of the first nuclear bomb which was later dropped on Hiroshima. Directly following his time at Los Alamos he believed global destruction would follow soon after the Second World War: “I would see people building a bridge, or they’d be making a new road, and I thought, they’re crazy, they just don’t understand, they don’t understand. Why are they making new things? It’s so useless.”
Thankfully Feynman was incorrect and his nightmare never became a reality, leveller heads prevailed. I cannot, however, say the same for the current world in which we live where even the free speech of the media has come under intense scrutiny. Is the Doomsday Clock an essential metaphorical instrument that helps gain recognition for global issues? Yes, of course it is, but in my opinion it may not be too outlandish in its estimations unless we continue to be courageous enough to speak out against political inadequacies and demand reformation.
Mark Jackson – Features Writer