When over 100,000 people were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki over the course of three days by two separate explosions, it became clear that the horrors technology allowed us to unleash upon each other had escalated to a new level. The Second World War showed the world mechanised slaughter on an industrial scale; the forced labour camps of Nazi Germany made it clear that an entire ethnic group could indeed disappear under the relentless march of hatred. However, unlike the Holocaust which occurred over a period of years, thousands of Japanese lives ended in a matter of seconds due to an entirely new type of weapon.
The scientists who worked on this weapon realised what this new mastery of matter had unleashed. The world could never again return to a state where one could wage war with the world’s superpower without the possibility of swift annihilation hanging over them. In 1947, it was only the USA that had this power, but scientific truths do not change across borders. If the USA administration knows a scientific truth, then it is knowable, and any state with enough time, hard work and research can know these truths. The knowledge required to build a nuclear weapon would spread and along with it it’s terrible capabilities; it was only a matter of time.
In response to this realisation, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists conceived a method to communicate this difficult truth to the rest of the world. They described a 24-hour clock: the day represents human history and midnight signals the end of this ‘day’, the last moment in which humans play a role in the history of the universe. The closer to midnight we get, the closer to our extinction we are estimated to be.
“At two and a half minutes to midnight we are the second closest the world has ever been to obliteration”
This is the 70th year since the Doomsday clock commenced in 1947, starting unnervingly close to its end, 7 minutes to midnight. Since then it has ranged from a secure 17 minutes to midnight to a perilous 2 minutes to midnight. The latter was in 1953, when the United States tested its first thermonuclear weapon, a fusion bomb 1000 times more powerful than the blast that killed between 70000 and 80000 people in a single blast in Hiroshima. The largest factors contributing to the proximity to midnight were the magnitude of the weapon coupled with the fact that both the United States and the USSR had hundreds of weapons of a similar magnitude and their resolve not to use them was wearing chillingly thin. Although nuclear weapons spread like wildfire and the Cold War had many twists, turns and hot flashes, the world gradually moved further away from midnight. This arose through a series of cooperative agreements such as the near-unilateral signing of nuclear non-proliferations treaties, the reunification of Germany and the fall of the USSR.
Since 2000 the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament, deteriorating relations between the USA and Russia, and a failure to tackle climate change have kept us steadily heading back towards midnight. In 2017 we have taken a relatively small step closer to annihilation – at two and a half minutes to midnight we are the second closest the world has ever been to obliteration.
So what is our current situation?
Although states that signed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have agreed to move towards at least partial nuclear disarmament, there remains the leftover nuclear arsenal from the height of the Cold War littered around the globe in all its macabre glory. Putin’s career criminal regime still has possibly the most aggressive cache in the world. However, the Russian Federation has up until now been balanced by some semblance of a responsible administration leading the USA. Today we’re in a situation where the leader of the free world, the man who commands the most powerful nation and is Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military, is truly a buffoon.
Donald Trump either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care that he is completely unable to form a coherent opinion on the danger that climate change poses to the world. In the hottest year on record, the third year of climbing temperature in a row, it is evident now more than ever before that anthropogenic climate change is a pressing issue. If Trump does not understand this, and those who do not care are able to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency, then we are edging closer to a geopolitical disaster on a global scale. If he does not listen to his experienced intelligence agencies, the USA and its allies all become more vulnerable.
“Our attitude towards WMD’s has been largely shaped by an understanding of the danger they present to human existence”
Trump does not seem to care that refugees are not tokens in a board game, but that they are people with lives and dreams and that mistreating them sews the seeds of dissent within the administration and that nuclear weapons are not toys, but tools that can end the lives of millions of people with the press of a button and the world is at the mercy of his ignorance. We are relying on the goodwill of a man who will happily admit that his key campaign slogans such as ‘draining the swamp’ and ‘lock her up’ sounded good but that he has no idea why he said them and in fact he was willing to say anything to get into power and he expects his supporters to laugh as if they were in on the joke the whole time.
Our attitude towards WMD’s has been largely shaped by an understanding of the danger they present to human existence. However, technology hasn’t got any less potent and our relationship with Russia isn’t much better than it was before. The situation is delicate and leading the free world requires patience, intelligence and a critical mind. If that person, with the biggest bombs in the world is a misogynistic, xenophobic bully who is too immature to adjust to the truth then those bombs are unpredictable and it is no surprise that he is taking us 30 seconds closer to Doomsday.
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Image courtesy of Jonas Bengtsson via Flikr