The Doomsday Clock, a figurative timepiece used as a barometer of humankind’s fate, was moved one minute closer to midnight on Tuesday, the first time it has been nudged forward since 2007. It is now 11:55, five minutes before the appointed hour.
The re-setting of the clock has become something of a gimmick in recent years, carried out by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group established to raise awareness about the perils of nuclear weaponry, and aimed at warning the public about various catastrophic dangers.
But the process involved in deciding the time is a deeply serious one, overseen by a venerable board of scientists, Nobel laureates and others and concluded with a symposium in Washington. The setting of the clock is no longer based only on the proliferation of nuclear arms, but also on threats such as climate change and biological weaponry.
In moving the clock ahead on Tuesday, the BAS cited the failure of world leaders to achieve significant progress on the reduction of nuclear weapons and in developing a comprehensive response to climate change. Just two years ago, following global talks on climate change in Copenhagen and international pledges to reduce nuclear stockpiles, the BAS moved the clock backward by a minute.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is kind of like the upper crust counterpart to the scrappy regular-type Millenarians I usually write about. The Bulletin in made up of fancy people, with fancy degrees and enviable careers. You might call them Establishment Millenarians. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a pedigree. It was, as they note,
established in 1945 by scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. They knew about the horrible effects of these new weapons and devoted themselves to warning the public about the consequences of using them. Those early scientists also worried about military secrecy, fearing that leaders might draw their countries into increasingly dangerous nuclear confrontations without the full consent of their citizens.
These Bulletin people are perhaps a little more scientific than what I’ll call Commoner Millenarians (the apocalyptic street preacher, the Rap-Con contributor) in the way they approach their predictions of the End Times. They’re more monied, closer to power, and so they maybe have a more precise appreciation for the mechanics of what brings us closer to doom in an administrative/governmental sense. But I’m skeptical of any claims that the world is coming to an end. Starting from the position that if we haven’t done ourselves in now, we’re probably not going to do ourselves in in the near future, do I have any actual reason to respect the Bulletin folks any more than, say, my conspiratorial old drivers’ ed instructor, or my current favorite apocalypse blogger?
I just looked at the Board of Sponsors. Probably.