- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Last year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its famous "Doomsday Clock" — which measures the likelihood of global catastrophe — one minute closer to midnight, citing a lack of progress on nuclear disarmament and measures to address climate change.
Yesterday, the Bulletin again saw a year of stasis, but opted to keep the clock at five minutes to midnight. In an open letter to President Obama, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board writes:
2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the US elections the focus was "the economy, stupid," with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population’s well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world’s energy sources. 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, marked by devastating drought and brutal storms. These extreme events are exactly what climate models predict for an atmosphere overburdened with greenhouse gases. 2012 was a year of unrealized opportunity to reduce nuclear stockpiles, to lower the immediacy of destruction from missiles on alert, and to control the spread of fissile materials and keep nuclear terrorism at bay. 2012 was a year in which — one year after the partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station — the Japanese nation continued to be at the earliest stages of what will be a costly and long recovery.
The stasis of 2012 convinces us, the Science and Security Board, to keep the hands of the Doomsday Clock in place.
The clock — a staple of apocalyptic fiction, notably Allen Moore’s Watchmen — can seem a bit arbitrary at times. We’re now closer to midnight than we were during many years at the height of the Cold War. (The clock got as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 after the U.S. began development of the hydrogen bomb.) But as board member Lawrence Krauss explains, the difference in the last few years has been BAS’s decision to take issues like climate change into account in addition to nuclear weapons. The apocalypses that the clock is now anticipating are more of the whimper than the bang variety.