We’re now three minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, which is used to determine how close human civilization is to the apocalypse. This is the closest we’ve ever been to midnight since 1984. The reason is not nuclear war anymore. It’s the threat humanity faces from bioterrorism, climate change, and our lethargic response towards addressing it. But, nuclear weapons still play their part as well (via Slate):
That’s the closest it has been to midnight since 1984, at the Cold War’s peak. The only time humanity has been closer to self-destruction, according to the clock, was from 1953 to 1960, when it read 11:58 p.m. thanks to the nuclear brinksmanship between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cold War’s end turned the clock all the way back to 11:43 p.m. in 1991. So how did we end up right back at 11:57 p.m., just 24 years later?*
The answer is that nuclear war is no longer the only plausible, existential threat we face, according to the Bulletin’s science and security board. The other: climate change. And, more specifically, the world’s lackluster response to climate change.
As Lawrence Krauss explained in Slate two years ago, climate change was added to the clock-setting calculations in 2007, along with the dangers presented by biotechnology and bioterrorism. Despite ever-growing public awareness of the problem, global inaction on climate change has only darkened the picture since then.
Remember, it isn’t only climate change that has us poised precipitously at 11:57 p.m. today. It’s the combination of climate change and some discouraging recent developments on the nuclear-proliferation front. At a press conference Thursday, Bulletin executive director Kennette Benedict emphasized both. About the nuclear threat, she said:
The arms-reduction process has ground to a halt, with the United States and Russia embarking on massive programs to modernize their nuclear forces—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties. At the same time, other nuclear-weapons states are joining this expensive and extremely dangerous modernization craze.
The two threats may seem unrelated, but it’s worthwhile to think about them in the same breath, because there are some interesting parallels between them. The greatest danger posed by nuclear bombs is not their explosive power. It’s the prospect of a nuclear winter—that is, a form of very sudden, human-caused, climate change.
There’s that, and the fact that radiation will kill us all, too. Yet, the Slate piece did note that the Doomsday Clock’s methodology is subjective to the “biases and interests” of the scientists who move the clock handles.
While it’s a bit unnerving that we are so close to the end of the world, I’m still skeptical about climate change being the biggest existential threat humanity has faced in generations.
In other news, Mad Max: Fury Road will be released this summer; a franchise that pretty much became the blueprint for post-apocalyptic media. Here’s the trailer: