Warning that ‘We are like passengers on the Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead’ in face of nuclear arms and climate change threats
The risk to global civilisation from nuclear weapons and climate change remains at an all-time high, according to a group of prominent US scientists and former officials, who said the world’s predicament had become the “new abnormal”.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its symbolic “doomsday clock”, unveiled every year, was stuck at two minutes to midnight, the same as last January. The only other time the Bulletin has judged the world as being this close to catastrophe was 1953, in the early volatile stages of the cold war.
The reasons given by the Bulletin’s panel of experts included the collapse of arms control treaties, and the emphasis in Washington and Moscow on modernising nuclear arsenals rather than dismantling them, and the lack of political will to reverse climate change.
“We are like passengers on the Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music,” said Jerry Brown, the former governor of California, said. Since leaving office this month, Brown has become the Bulletin’s executive chairman, citing the imminent threats to humanity. “It’s late and it’s getting later. We have to wake people up. And that’s what I intend to do!”
The former US defence secretary William Perry said that the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore last June, succeeded in calming some of the “hysteria” in the standoff between the two countries, but had not led to any North Korean moves to dismantle its nuclear arsenals.
Perry pointed to Trump’s declared intention to suspend compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on 2 February, and serve notice of US withdrawal, as a sign of the erosion of contacts between the world’s most heavily armed nuclear weapons powers.
“When you withdraw from treaties you are losing this important vehicle of dialogue,” Perry said. “We will have only one [arms control] treaty left, the New Start treaty, which could very well go away when it expires in another two years.”
“My own judgment is, relative to a year ago, we are slightly worse off,” Perry said.
Rachel Bronson, the Bulletin’s president, said there should be no comfort taken from the fact that the clock did not move forward over the past year.
“This new abnormal is a pernicious and dangerous departure from the time when the United States sought a leadership role in designing and supporting global agreements that advanced a safer and healthier planet,” Bronson said. “The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time.”
As governor of California, Brown introduced emissions controls and other regulations aimed in part at mitigating the impact of Trump’s decision to walk out of the Paris Climate accord, but he said that states and businesses could not combat climate change effectively without support from the White House.
“I find that the political response is alarming. It’s akin to sleepwalking,” Brown told reporters on Wednesday night. “We’re headed toward a very bad situation on the climate front and it will drive many more migrants to the border and create more political instability politically. So all the problems we have are going to be made worse and we may have passed a tipping point where we can’t make them better in any reasonable time and so that will undermine the entire basis of democratic governance.”