The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 in the aftermath of the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Manhattan Project scientists who realized that they had opened a Pandora’s Box. Two years later, the Bulletin created the “Doomsday Clock,” with midnight being the apocalypse and including a countdown to zero, in order graphically to convey threats to humanity and the planet. Every year, the Bulletin decides if and where to move (or leave in place) the minute hand of the clock after consultation with 13 Nobel laureates. The clock has become the most widely recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe. In 2020, the Bulletin focuses on (1) nuclear weapons, (2) climate change, and (3) disruptive technologies.
Given these three areas of concern, this year the Bulletin moved the minute hand from two minutes to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has come to Armageddon at any time since the clock’s creation.
One major reason we are edging ever closer than ever to destruction is Donald Trump. He has single-handedly brought the world nearer the abyss by his irresponsible pull-out of the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement and other nuclear arms control covenants, his obtuse climate-change denial and purging of climate scientists from the U.S. government, and his despicable encouragement of our adversaries to wage cyberwar on our democracy. The first two are existential dangers to the entire planet and humanity; the last is an existential danger to America and to global stability. Compounding this is his distancing of the U.S. from our allies and our 70-year commitment to combined efforts to manage international affairs in order to keep the world safe and secure.
The risks of nuclear war and weapons proliferation have escalated during three years of Trump. Iran is again enriching uranium required to produce atomic weapons while North Korea is amping up its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems development. Meanwhile, the U.S. has abandoned one arms control agreement with Russia and threatens to leave two others. An increasingly unregulated nuclear environment is incredibly dangerous.
Climate change reality is being met by government inaction, largely because the most important global influencer and impetus for such action—the U.S.—has its head in the sand. Trump’s favorite word—“hoax”—tells you all you need to know about his irresponsible behavior regarding a threat that looms larger with each passing season. Last month was the hottest January after the second hottest year on record. Meanwhile, Trump fiddles, screaming “fake news” at facts and countering with falsehoods while the planet burns. U.S. involvement and leadership is vital in facing this global crisis, but Trump deprives the world of our talent and resources.
Democracy and freedom depend on factual information. Trump’s continuation in power rests on lies and disinformation. He encouraged Russian interference in our 2016 election and is at it again in 2020. Instead of defending us against Putin’s cyber information war, he is complicit in it. His oath of office means nothing to him. Worse, his corruption of the information environment exacerbates both of the other planetary threats. Instead of tackling them and managing their risks, he escalates them. A reckoning looms larger the longer he stays around.
The Bulletin says that the proximity to midnight of the Doomsday Clock should be “warning leaders and citizens around the world that the international security situation is now more dangerous than it has ever been, even at the height of the Cold War. Civilization-ending nuclear war—whether started by design, blunder, or simple miscommunication—is a genuine possibility. Climate change that could devastate the planet is undeniably happening.” Add in Russia’s disruptive cyber campaign to get Trump re-elected and the potential for devastation is near at hand.
Nuclear incidents, climate emergencies, cyberwars and Donald Trump are clear and present dangers. All need to be addressed.
February 21, 2020