How Far are We from Catastrophe? The Doomsday Clock and What it Signifies

Miranda Moore

In recent years, gas, grocery, insurance, and a number of other normal American expenses have radically increased. According to Yahoo News, a new car, which was once an American staple item, is now out of reach for many American families.

With the growing economic pressures in the United States, many Americans as well as people abroad, overlook the environmental and political dangers that could endanger the world.

What is the Doomsday Clock?

Nvate Doomsday Clock by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, symbolic lock biosecurity

This is the Doomsday Clock.

Since its creation in 1947 by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago, the Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock that lets us know how close we are to a global disaster, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ official website. The most recent official announcement was recorded at five minutes to midnight on Jan. 12, 2012, according to the website. It was the closest we have ever been to a figurative global disaster. Of course, that does not mean that you should be running for the nearest bomb shelter. Instead, it means that certain events have caused the probability of danger to increase. In the case of the most recent announcement, the Doomsday Clock timeline on the website stated it was the lack of global political action to address growing nuclear warfare threats and global climate change.

What Causes the Clock to Move?

The idea that we are five minutes to midnight may seem terrifying to those who don’t know much about the clock. One of the main reasons the clock was so close to midnight, according to the Atomic Scientists, is the alarming regional conflicts in the Middle East, northeast Asia, and south Asia. While it is true that nuclear weapon threats are a reality, the thing to remember is that the clock is only a symbol. It’s like the Smokey the Bear forest fire level signs you see in parks. Basically, it’s warning you when humanity is being careless and just how high that level of carelessness is.

But just what kinds of threats drive the clock? There are three basic threats—nuclear, climate change, and biosecurity. Nuclear threats are probably the most we hear about today, with a recent threat to test nuclear weapons in North Korea, as reported by Yahoo News. The United States was the target.

According to the Doomsday Clock Overview, “the nuclear age dawned in the 1940s when scientists learned how to release the energy stored within the atom.” Two uses were immediately conceived, “an unparalleled weapon and a new energy source. Today, with several countries such as Britain, France, Russia, and the United States continuing to modernize their arsenals, many believe a second nuclear age is coming.”

Climate change is another issue that occurs often in the media. Nowadays we more than often overuse fossil fuel technologies which, in turn, harm the climate. Fossil fuels contain high levels of carbon, which is the main danger to us and the Doomsday Clock Overview states that today the concentration of carbon dioxide is at its highest in 650,000 years. The overview goes on further to state that even if the emissions of gas were immediately stopped the extra gases already in the atmosphere would continue to change the characteristics of the Earth for hundreds of years.

Biosecurity refers to our war against various diseases. Of course, this is a very good thing. Diseases such as polio have long since been cured and without medical science we would perhaps still be rampant with syphilis like in the early days of humanity when people were uneducated and slept with anyone they wanted. Unfortunately, there is a downside to all of this. If these advanced technologies fall into the wrong hands, then dangerous pathogens can be released. This is a fear that also controls the clock.

There is a silver lining at least. The clock may be moving forward now, but it also has the ability to go backwards as well. For example, according to the Doomsday Clock timeline, in 1963 the clock went from seven minutes to midnight to 12 minutes to midnight. This occurred when the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty. This treaty put limits on atmospheric nuclear testing.

What Can Be Done?

This year the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board decided to keep the clock at five minutes to midnight. Alarmed by this, the board sent an open letter to President Barack Obama on Jan. 14, 2013. The letter expressed grave concerns over the issues of nuclear weapons, securing fissile materials—materials left over from making weapons—and climate control. The scientists stated that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the United States. The letter to Obama can be viewed here on the bulletin’s website.

It’s true that normal citizens can’t do much when it comes to nuclear warfare or biosecurity. But there are always things that can be done to help the environment. Numerous things, though small, are always better than nothing at all—save energy, pick up trash, boycott products that use too much fossil fuel. The best thing that can be done is to be aware.

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