What is… The Doomsday Clock?

I first heard about some decades ago:. Although the Doomsday Clock has been around since 1947, I wasn’t really conscious of it until my teen years: probably around the 70s. That was about the time that I was really discovering international politics and it finally clicked, the whole concept of countries and wars and national dynamics. It also happens that around that time, between 1974 to 1988, the clock was always getting closer to midnight. I don’t think it’s surprising that I grew up with a pessimistic view of the world and where we were headed. The Doomsday Clock is an attempt to represent that in a simple, visual method.

The Clock, of course, is symbolic. There’s no actual time to midnight: but when the clock strikes twelve, it’s all over. (In once sense, then, it will never strike midnight: because by the time it ever did, no-one would be around who cared enough to move the hands that last minute.) The Clock is completely relative, and to some degree arbitrary: it is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. (Washington Post, 2011) The original idea was to plot how close we were coming to world-wide destruction, presumably by an atomic bomb: in the days when nuclear warfare was our biggest international concern. That was how I understood it as a kid, and the closer we were to midnight, the more the international tension between nations.

The latest move… from 11:54 to 11:55… has been brought about for several reasons: changes in international politics, a lack of movement in reducing nuclear arms around the planet, and the lack of a desire to do anything about climate change. Yes, these are a variety of problems: but anyone who is critical (as reflected in this article from the National Post: my fellow Canadians can be embarrassingly provincial at times) has obviously just not understood the intent. Matt Gurney tries to discredit the idea of expressing such concern: “Nuclear warfare and climate change are about as different as you can imagine” and he suggests different symbols for the two elements. What he does not understand is that the Clock is more a representation of overall global tension, not of any single, individual concern. (How many of THOSE would there be?) Think of it this way: whether you believe in climate change or not, we don’t have enough water or food to distribute for the world’s population. That is made worse by hot summers and droughts. So the symptoms of climate change cause international tempers to flare: and eventually some nuclear-armed hothead launches a warhead to protect his resources or to help his starving people. So the overall state of the world (the number of minutes till midnight) is a necessary compilation of many concerns, including both nuclear armaments and climate change, since both of those influence the world strongly.

I thought it interesting the end of an article in The Star: “There is a ‘worrisome trend — notably in U.S. but in many other countries — to reject or diminish what science says,’ said Robert Socolow, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University, and a member of the Bulletin’s science and security board.” From what I’ve seen of the popular attitude toward science, like Mr. Gurney’s above, this is entirely correct. One of the benefits of science is that it can help to clear our perspective on happenings and situations. But people are much more interested in ideology and self-aggrandizement.

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