Atomic Scientists: We're getting even closer to doomsday (Update)

January 22, 2015 bySeth Borenstein
Climate scientist Richard Somerville, a member, Science and Security Board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, unveils the new Doomsday Clock in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. The clock advanced two minutes, an indication of how near the Earth is to destruction (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says Earth is now closer to human-caused doomsday than it has been in more than 30 years because of global warming and nuclear weaponry. But other experts say that's way too gloomy.

The advocacy group founded by the creators of the atomic bomb moved their famed "Doomsday Clock" ahead two minutes on Thursday. It said the world is now three minutes from a catastrophic midnight, instead of five minutes.

"This is about doomsday; this is about the end of civilization as we know it," bulletin executive director Kennette Benedict said at a news conference in Washington.

She called both climate change and modernization of nuclear weaponry equal but undeniable threats to humanity's continued existence that triggered the 20 scientists on the board to decide to move the clock closer to midnight.

"The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon," Benedict said.

But other scientists aren't quite so pessimistic.

Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of both geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said in an email: "I suspect that humans will 'muddle through' the climate situation much as we have muddled through the nuclear weapons situation—limiting the risk with cooperative international action and parallel domestic policies."

The bulletin has included climate change in its doomsday clock since 2007.

Climate scientist Richard Somerville, member, Science and Security Board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, right, unveils the new Doomsday Clock, accompanied by Sivan Kartha, member, Science and Security Board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and senior scientists at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, right, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Washington. The clock advanced two minutes to midnight, an indication of how near the Earth is to destruction (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

"The fact that the Doomsday clock-setters changed their definition of 'doomsday' shows how profoundly the world has changed—they have to find a new source of doom because global thermonuclear war is now so unlikely," Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote in an email. Pinker in his book "The Better Angels of our Nature" uses statistics to argue that the world has become less war-like, less violent and more tolerant in recent decades and centuries.

Richard Somerville, a member of the Bulletin's board who is a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the trend in heat-trapping emissions from the burning of fossil fuels will "lead to major climatic disruption globally. The urgency has nothing to do with politics or ideology. It arises from the laws of physics and biology and chemistry. These laws are non-negotiable."

But Somerville agreed that the threat from climate change isn't quite as all-or-nothing as it is with nuclear war.

Even with the end of the cold war, the lack of progress in the dismantling of nuclear weapons and countries like the United States and Russia spending hundreds of billions of dollars on modernizing nuclear weaponry makes an atomic bomb explosion—either accidental or on purpose—a continuing and more urgent threat, Benedict said.

But Benedict did acknowledge the group has been warning of imminent nuclear disaster with its clock since 1947 and it hasn't happened yet.

Explore further: Scientists cautiously optimistic as Doomsday clock reset

More information: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: thebulletin.org/

Steven Pinker: stevenpinker.com/

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5 comments

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gkam
5 / 5 (2) Jan 22, 2015
These guys are smarter than Freeman Dyson.
mememine69
1 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2015
Three minutes to Dooms Day and you fear mongering news editors still can't say it's "PROVEN"?
How close to the point irreversible-unstoppable-warming will our climate science Gods and lazy news editors take us before they say their "THREAT TO THE PLANET" is "proven" and if they can say it's "too late" then why can't they put their scientific method aside and finally say it's "proven"?
This progressive needs "proof" before I goose step my own kids to the greenhouse gas ovens like some fear mongering neocon.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2015
I would like to add a piece from someone who has seen how the failure to speak up caused untold suffering:

"Back to your previous note, to give the cancer analogy a break, let me add another one. I thought of this as I was listening to Bob Inglis' opening remarks (why we should all speak up and on the record). I come from a country that has a pitch dark chapter in its history. Growing up I witnessed first hand what it means when the young judge their parent generation on what happened (or didn't happen). Literally every day there were questions about who knew what, was everything done that could have been done? A recurring theme was why did you not speak up, why did you not try to prevent the things that happened? Mind you, this is about times when people who did speak up risked their lives doing so. What are we risking? For the most part, only an uncomfortable conversation.
So, at the risk of continuing an uncomfortable conversation:
..cont..
Maggnus
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2015
ct "There were lots of people in my parents' generation who claimed they did not know, which was true for some but not for others. None of us will be able to claim we did not know. We have been warned of the risks and consequences, over and over again, ad nauseam. What we do with it is up to us. None of us can stop carbon emissions single-handedly. But each one of us has a vote. Who will we vote for? What will we expect of the people we elect?
Will we be caught on the wrong side of history? Our generation carries the historical distinction of being the first to be informed about the consequences and the last who would still be able to reduce the impact. What will we do?
If we introduce a carbon fee and dividend system will everything grind to a halt? Of course not. But it would stop (or at least reduce) the externalization of the true cost of burning fossil fuels and provide a more immediate incentive for the necessary transition to other sources of energy. Is too much to ask for?
Maggnus
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2015
She was from a country that supported Germany early. I am going to share this around a bit, because I think there are too many who miss the point.

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