Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Doomsday Clock" Moved Closer to Midnight

This morning at 10:00 Eastern time, in news that ought to send chills down ever citizen's spine, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the second hand of the Doomsday Clock another half minute closer to midnight. Hitherto it had been set at 3 minutes to midnight, since 2015.  The new setting marks metaphorically the acknowledgement of the highest danger facing the planet since 1953, when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. conducted multiple H-bomb tests in the atmosphere.

A global failure to fight climate change and concern over Donald Trump’s cabinet picks were cited as reasons for the increased threat to the planet. Of course, none of this ought to surprise the intelligent, high information citizen who is able to reason and discern fake news from the genuine form.

While the BAS historically has rejected that "one individual" can move the clock, it is clear to me that they have been alarmed following Trump's mid-December tweet that:

"We need to strengthen and expand nuclear capacity until the world comes to its sense regarding nukes."

As a number of strategic analysts had pointed out, including staff from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the U.S. already has just under 5,000 nuclear warheads in its active arsenal and more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. This is more than enough to turn the world to ash about six times over.

Given that Russia, according to the same strategic sources, "has 400 more nuclear warheads than the U.S. does", one might assume that Trump - via his tweet - really meant overtaking the Russians. But to the scientists of the BAS it may also have meant tearing up the new START Treaty which limits strategic weapons to 1,550 each by February, 2018. At least these would be the possible interpretations IF one assumed Trump knew that the Russians had a 400 -nuke advantage and also knew what the START Treaty was. But since he doesn't even read his daily briefs, that's unlikely.

The only conclusion to draw from the BAS staff' reasoning for citing Trump's cabinet then is that they don't believe any of them possess the gravitas or wherewithal to influence Trump in any way - say to stay his hands from entering the nuclear codes if he felt the need to do so.  The BAS own words confirm this:

"We understand that Mr. Trump has been in office only days, that many of his cabinet nominees are awaiting confirmation and that he has had little time to take official action. But Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change."

As I pointed out in the previous post, the man is out of touch with reality -hence certifiably insane by any sensible definition. His cabinet picks for EPA, Energy Dept. are not much better. Hence, the dire clock warning.   As the BAS statement continued:

"Last year, and the year before, we warned that world leaders were failing to act with the speed and on the scale necessary to protect citizens from the extreme dangers posed by climate change and nuclear war. During the past year, the need for leadership intensified but was met with inaction and brinkmanship."

Climate change, of course, enters as the more slow rolling form of human extinction. Indeed, in my Nov. 4 post from last year I cited Economic and psychology expert George Loewenstein, who was typical of the risk assessment experts consulted in an AP study. He called climate change "a problem that threatens the very existence of the human race and is already having devastating consequences around the world".

The results of the AP survey were similar to a larger survey of 750 experts conducted earlier last year by the World Economic Forum. Their Global Risks Report 2016 found that the five biggest global risks in terms of impact were: 1) climate change, 2) weapons of mass destruction, 3) water crises, 4) large scale migration, and 5) severe energy price shocks.

The contributors to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also cited the threat posed to democracy by fake news and the influence exerted on elections as reasons for the new setting, according to a panel of scientists involved in the process.

The appropriate symbolic time is deduced each year by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The new reading brings the threat closer to midnight than it’s been since the height of the Cold War – when it reached 11:58pm.

When asked what was the single biggest factor in moving the hands forward, Professor of Meteorology David Titley said the dissemination of facts and science expressed through a “verbal looseness” was a particular threat.

“Policy that is sensible requires facts to be facts,” one theoretical physicist added.

And, of course, "verbal looseness" is epitomized by Trump's reckless December tweet on nuclear capacity.  As I pointed out no sane person ought to be propounding nuclear policy via a cartoon language medium. The very choice to do so indicates that person lacks all his marbles. Hence, if I were the BAS I'd be hitting the panic button over Trump's verbal looseness too! Anyone who uses Twitter to bloviate on nuclear forces and capacity has several screws loose.

How would humanity actually hitting midnight look? The best fictional portrayal of such a catastrophe was probably in the 1983 movie 'Threads'. The film is about 1hr and 47 minutes long, Brit-made,  but if it doesn't scare the bejeezus out of you, you are either already: a) brain dead, or b) a zombie and amongst the walking dead.

'Threads' is set in the industrial city of Sheffield, UK, and to be sure one needs to get adjusted to the peculiar accent. But once one does, he or she will be granted an inside look at a future none of us want to face. (One U.S. reviewer said that "Threads makes 'The Day After' look like a day at the races".) Having seen both,  I concur.

Threads is not for the squeamish or faint-hearted but I do think all those yammering for war or confrontation with Iran, North Korea or China (the Trumpies want to battle over the Spratley Islands) need to see it and let its message soak in. In fact, I think every critically-thinking red blooded citizen ought to see it, if for no other reason to be motivated to let reps know this thing isn't on - not now or ever.

Though based on a hypothetical Soviet-Russian invasion of Iran, which possibility is no longer - since the present day Russians have plowed enormous investment monies into Iran and its reactors, the projected invasion of a U.S. and NATO strike force is accurate to any unfolding future scenario. From the initial strikes on a nuke reactor at Isfahan, to the accidental sinking of the Russian ship Kirov in the Straits of Hormuz, to the accidental exchange of 2 tactical nuclear weapons (with radiation blowing over Pakistan) and the escalation to a full scale nuclear war - with 3,000 megatons exchange (210 megatons on the UK alone) this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The last segment of the film - following the timeline after the missile exchange and when nuclear winter occurs, discloses there are some prices that are simply too much to pay. Most graphic are the scenes of the sorry victims of radiation sickness in Sheffield, UK and the final scene when a young woman that manages to survive gives birth to an infant with a frog-like face, pointed furry ears, scales and rat nose. As she screams in horror at her mutant, grunting offspring, the film pans to black and the credits roll.

DO we really want this future? Then by all means we need to heed the warning conveyed by the Doomsday clock.

See also:


'The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.' That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act—immediately".

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