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Nuclear extinction isn’t the scare it once was. Thanks to the Cold War thaw, it sits safely on the “afterthought” shelf, up there with the plague and alien invasions.
But don’t feel too safe.
And don’t be too quick to dismiss nuclear extinction.
It should still keep you up at night.
In fact, the vote you cast in the next presidential election might be a vote for the Apocalypse. Whether it be Trump, Clinton or someone else, the next president, with the wrong choices and the wrong temperament, might push us all a minute closer to doomsday.
The Doomsday Clock
The Doomsday Clock is a cold sweats, nightmare reality that should scare the “you-know-what” out of you.
Created nearly 70 years ago by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Bulletin), the Doomsday Clock illustrates how close we are to destroying our civilization. At the start of this year, the Clock’s minute hand was moved forward two minutes.* Today, the Clock sits at three minutes to midnight – a.k.a “doomsday.”
To give the current time some context, the Clock was:
- originally set to seven minutes to midnight;
- first moved to three minutes to midnight (1949) because the Soviet Union successfully tested its first atomic bomb;
- moved forward to two minutes to midnight (1953) because of the hydrogen bomb. This is the closest the hands have ever been to midnight.
To date, the minute hand has been moved forward or backward 21 times, most recently this year when it was moved from five minutes to three. We now sit at three minutes to midnight because:
Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity ….
The naysayers will note that the Clock is speculative and subject to the whims of those who set it. True. And it’s not a real clock, just a symbol. Also true.
But the damn thing’s still ticking 70 years after the first atomic bomb.
And in 2015, we’re closer to midnight than we’ve been in the last 25 years.
“Boo!” Even the naysayers are scared.
The Next Election: A Vote Toward Midnight …
Our predicted destruction and the Clock’s ticking are tied to our use of man-made, dangerous technologies – i.e., the ones that inflict irrevocable harm, whether by intention, miscalculation or accident. As listed by the Bulletin, these man-made technologies include:
- nuclear weapons (first and foremost);
- climate-changing technologies;
- biotechnologies; and
- cybertechnology/emerging technologies.
Our current field of presidential candidates all have opinions, policies and philosophies impacting these man-made technologies. Thus, your vote in the next election is a vote to potentially move the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.
Consider Presidents Carter and Reagan. In 1981, their collective actions jolted the Clock forward from seven minutes to four minute to midnight:
… President Jimmy Carter pulls the United States from the Olympic Games in Moscow and considers ways in which the United States could win a nuclear war. The [nuclear] rhetoric only intensifies with the election of Ronald Reagan as president. Reagan scraps any talk of arms control and proposes that the best way to end the Cold War is for the United States to win it.
Because of their personalities and policies, presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could have the same impact as Carter and Reagan. On Fox News Sunday (August 16, 2015), columnist George Will, touching upon Trump's temperament, warned:
[Trump] consists of saying "I'm rich. Everyone who disagrees with me is stupid and all our problems are simple if you put me in charge."
… [S]ince we are at the end of this [election] going to send a president, people have to say, "Do we really want to give nuclear weapons to Donald Trump?" -- at which point I think things change.
As for Clinton, Salon recently called her “the Democrat for war.” In fact, in 2007, Clinton gave this nod to nuclear weapons:
I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. Presidents, since the Cold War, have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace. And I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.
… Or Away from Midnight?
But Trump or Clinton could also push the Doomsday Clock away from midnight. Reagan did it in 1988. With his signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (which banned some nuclear weapons), Reagan helped reset the Clock from three minutes to six minutes to midnight:
The leadership shown by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev makes the treaty a reality, but public opposition to U.S. nuclear weapons in Western Europe inspires it. For years, such intermediate-range missiles had kept Western Europe in the crosshairs of the two superpowers.
As with Reagan, the “back-ticking” of the Clock hinges on good leadership, regardless of who’s elected in 2016.
From 1947 to Today
Somewhere in the last 70 years, the nuclear scare melted away. It first reared its ugly head in ’47 when global, nuclear dangers become evident. It was crystal clear in ’64 when Lyndon B. Johnson’s ran his “Daisy Girl” commercial. And it was front-and-center in ’83 when ABC televised “The Day After.” In 2015, it’s hard to find. But if you look at today’s Doomsday Clock, you’ll see it’s still there.
Of course, some will balk at today’s nuclear scare, choosing to cast the Clock aside as fear-mongering. That’s okay, maybe it is.
But others will think about it when choosing our next president. That’s okay too because at three minutes to midnight, today’s Doomsday Clock should scare the hell out of you.
*The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board resets the clock as necessary. The Board is made up of nuclear technology and climate science experts. The Board also consults across a range of disciplines and seeks input from the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 16 Nobel laureates.
Thanks Travis, I wasn't aware of this nuclear clock. This puts our fragile state in very realistic terms, although just glancing at the front page of a newspaper on any given day has the same effect.