In August 1945, the development and dropping of the atomic bombs ushered humanity into an unprecedented era. For the first time in human history, we possessed the capacity for complete species destruction.
Current actions regarding climate and atomic bombs taken by lawmakers are putting the world at risk of this destruction again.
Since 1947, an organization known as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists developed a theoretical model to describe just how close we are to the brink. The end result was a clock whose countdown to midnight signified the approaching end of humanity. This model was dubbed The Doomsday Clock.
Over the years, scientists have adjusted the clock according to their assessment of the risk of destruction. In 1953, the clock was moved to 11:58 as Americans and Soviets developed the hydrogen bomb, a weapon with destructive capabilities orders of magnitude greater than the Hiroshima bomb. Given the effects of nuclear winter alone, such a war have almost certainly wiped out all of humanity, the catastrophic event known as omnicide.
After that, the world somewhat relaxed. Nuclear arms treaties and a relaxation of Cold War tensions saw the clock dialed back as far as 11:48. In 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the clock was set to its most optimistic point in history: 11:43 or 17 minutes to midnight.
In subsequent years, the U.S. maintained Cold War-level military spending and rejected a series of nuclear arms treaties. This aggressive stance, along with a nuclear North Korea and fears of nuclear terrorism, has prompted the clock to shift continuously back towards midnight.
In 2007, the bulletin included a new variable for measuring omnicidal dangers: climate change. The effects of a steadily warming planet pose an enormous threat to organized human existence.
Global warming increases the frequency and severity of natural catastrophes such as wildfires, floods, freak storms and droughts. Increased carbon in the atmosphere is causing decreased nutrition levels in crops. Coastal areas around the world will sink under water, and entire countries will be uninhabitable due to excessive heat. The effects of this would be enough to tear apart the liberal world order.
The reasons are clear. President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republicans continued to march the U.S. on the path towards climate and nuclear catastrophe.
In many ways they are aided by a Democratic establishment who scoff at a Green New Deal while taking hundreds of thousands in fossil fuel money. Earlier this year, the administration announced that it was going to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, absolving itself of the responsibility to help limit emissions.
Of course, Trump and America aren’t the only culprits behind the world’s emissions. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists notes that most of the countries of the world have “failed miserably” in their goal to reduce emissions. After a brief plateau in emissions, global emissions resumed their rise after 2017.
After the Obama administration initiated a $1 trillion investment in “modernizing” our nuclear arsenal, Trump is also hastening our march to nuclear annihilation by expanding that investment.
In response, Vladmir Putin announced Russia's own modernization efforts. Additionally, Trump announced that the U.S. was abandoning the INF treaty that limits the kinds of nuclear weapons that could be developed
The administration's Nuclear Posture Review highlights the need to be prepared to use nukes in a wide variety of circumstances, as well as plans to develop “more-useable” nuclear weapons. None of this will increase our safety. We are at the beginning of a new nuclear arms race.
Earlier this year, Trump announced he would reimpose sanctions of Iran, violating the Iran nuclear deal. The direct human costs of the sanctions aside, this raises the risk of a conflagration in the region that could lead to nuclear exchange. A nuclear North Korea continues to hang over Southeast Asia. Though the Trump meeting with Kim was a step in the right direction, no concrete actions were taken.
All of these problems are exacerbated by the new paradigm of weaponized information.
In 2019, the Bulletin announced that information warfare techniques pose another threat to civilization. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, the information ecosystem is threatened with utter chaos.
The Bulletin writes that “by manipulating the natural cognitive predispositions of human beings, information warriors can exacerbate prejudices, biases, and ideological differences.”
The modern information society makes such manipulation exponentially more dangerous. Society will not be able to deal with the problems we face if citizens cannot trust the information they encounter.
The Bulletin says, “This new abnormal is simply too volatile and dangerous to accept as a continuing state of world affairs.”
Our society is living with a gun pointed at our head, and the people who run the world seem intent on playing around with the trigger. But it doesn't have to be this way. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released a statement saying “The means for managing dangerous technology and reducing global-scale risk exist; indeed, many of them are well-known and within society’s reach, if leaders pay reasonable attention to preserving the long-term prospects of humanity, and if citizens demand that they do so.”
As citizens of the world, we have a job to do.