We get a regular announcment by the bulletin of Atomic Scientists at this time of year every year. It doesn't mean anything is going to happen soon. Indeed their focus is on the long term, not the short term. For instance the Cuban missile crisis didn’t lead to a shift in the clock. It is nothing to do with any short term politics about Norht Korea or Iran. Nowadays they also include global warming as an issue and the worst effects of that will be towards the end of the century. So when it says “2 minutes” - those minutes are not an actual time period. It’s a metaphor, indeed hyperbole (exaggerated analogy for emotional effect). The Doomsday Clock is neither about Doomsday and nor is it a clock. It is hyperbole - a deliberately exaggerated metaphor intentionally done that way for emotional effect. A literary device. You are not expected to take words like this literally. For more about this see my Why we don’t need to be scared of the “Doomsday clock” (short version)
The full announcement is here:
It’s not something to be scared of, as in, scared of an imminent Doomsday. But concerned, yes.
Their aim is to encourge decision makers to do something about disarmament and things like climate change. At the moment a lot of the concern is directly a result of Trump as president. For instance, he has said he will withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, and he also has refused to renew the START treaty on keeping both the US and Russia levels of nuclear weapons down despite repeated requests from Russia to renew it. He is also expected to announce plans for modernization and new nuclear weapons so we may actually see an increase rather than a decrease in total numbers of nuclear weapons, for the first time in many years.
However - which they didn't touch on - he is only one president and has 3 years left of this term in office. He is also volatile in his decision making so it is possible that he changes his mind. But if not - well the next president whoever it is could reverse his decisions on these matters, indeed very well might as most previous presidents have been keen on working towards eventual nuclear disarmament.
NON NUCLEAR STATES AND POLITICIANS IN NUCLEAR STATES WORKING TOWARDS A NUCLEAR FREE WORLD
Though it talks about "2 minutes to" the concerns they raised were mainly about the longer term future. They also mention that 50 non nuclear states have already signed a treaty on the ending of all nuclear weapons world wide. The nuclear states boycotted it. But maybe eventually they can be brought around to the view of many non nuclear states.
I’m a long term supporter of a nuclear free world myself, and there are politicians even in nuclear states who are strongly pro nuclear disarmament. If Scotland ever goes independent we will renounce our nuclear weapons. This is the clear and long term policy of the Scottish National Party.
When Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish parliament, was asked her position on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was recently successfully passed at the United Nations, she said:
“I support that treaty. I want to see a world free of nuclear weapons and I think that countries such as the United Kingdom should lead by example. Instead of spending tens of billions of pounds on a new generation of Trident nuclear missiles, we should get rid of Trident nuclear missiles from the Clyde. We will continue to support action for unilateral nuclear disarmament because, if countries lead by example, the world will be a safer place in the long term as a result. We will support action on that internationally from the UN and elsewhere, because it is the right thing to do morally, financially and for practical reasons.”
If Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister of the UK in the next election, whenever that is, he has said that he will never use our nuclear weapons even in defence in any circumstances. Our Trident missiles would then be not something that could ever be used during his time as prime minister, except as something to negotiate with in nuclear arms reduction talks.
He got a lot of stick for it during our last election campaign - but support also from others. I personally think that's the only moral thing to do.
How can it be moral even if someone drops a nuclear weapon on you to respond by killing millions of innocent people in their country? If in a nuclear exchange the country attacked did not resepond, even with nuclear weapons, I don’t think myself that the government of the attacking country would last long on the world stage, facing universal condemnation.
So - hopefully this is a blip in reverse. They point out that we have stepped back from the brink before. We can again. And there are many who are working towards that goal.
The main thing is - their central message is positive giving recommendations to politicians on things they can do to prevent disaster. But journalists often just play up the negative and the doom and gloom, and the positive message in the announcement can get lost.
TRUMP COULD END THIS OVERNIGHT IF HE WISHED
Though they never mentioned him by name, only referring to the “president of the US”, they frequently mentioned the US president. In their view, this current situation is mainly caused by the Trump administration.
The positive aspect of this is that Trump could end it overnight by changing their nuclear weapons policies. The first thing he could do to increase stability with nuclear weapons is simply to respond to Russia’s repeated requests by saying that Yes, they want to renew START - it’s not even a new treaty - just renewing an old one. Russia has asked them to do that over and over but so far they have had no response.
They had concerns over Russia too, violations of treaty, but renewing START would be a great start towards a future where we can work towards dealing with these issues. It’s no wonder Russia is nervous working with a US administration that refuses to renew START.
Also, if the Trump administration don’t do that, then he has only 3 years more in this current term and the next president, if he isn’t re-elected - may well choose to rejoin START and once more work towards long term reduction of nuclear weapons. As they say - we can step back from the brink, as we have done before.
When it comes to climate change then the reason they gave for concern was Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, but the speaker in this topic area also commented in the positive direction on how many people in the US are still strongly in support of the Paris agreement and are not following their president’s lead on this.
THE NAME OF THE “CLOCK” DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT’S ABOUT NEAR FUTURE DISASTERS, OR ONES THAT WOULD KILL US ALL
This is a common,. and natural reading of the 2 minutes in the clock as meaning it’s about events in the near future and the word “Doomsday” as about disasters that have potential to kill us all. But it’s not the idea at all, as I said in the intro it’s a metaphor, and is not a clock, nor is it Doomsday. So let’s look at this a bit closer.
Neither of those is remotely true about climate change. And for nuclear war, then their concern is for both local and global nuclear war. For instance they referred to concern about the nuclear weapons build up in Pakistan. That’s a concern about the potential for nuclear war between Pakistan and India. There is no way other countries would get involved.
But it is of course a concern and a reason for disarmament long term. For as long as we have nuclear weapons, there is a risk, however very small it may be, of an accidental nuclear war, regional or global.
So for nuclear weapons , they are taking a long term view too. And though back in the 1970s scientists used to think that a nuclear war could plunge us into a “nuclear winter” worldwide that few could survive, this is no longer the understanding. Instead it is at most a “nuclear autumn” and with almost the entire southern hemisphere nuclear free, even a global nuclear war would hardly affect New Zealand, say, or Africa or South America. And nuclear weapons, especially H bombs, have effects that are most serious for hours to days, tailing off to weeks. Nagasaki and Hiroshima are now thriving modern cities.
Of course we have to do everything we can to prevent nuclear war. But it is not a literal “Doomsday” either.
COULD CLIMATE CHANGE HARM US RIGHT AWAY
Since this announcement we have been asked if climate change could kill us all this year. I think it is a result of the same natural reading of the announcements.
This is not remotely true. The world will continue to be just a little warmer on average than it used to be - but it's an average and there is climate on top of that. Including sometimes heat from the atmosphere getting stored in the oceans and then returned in later years e.g. La Nina and El Nino, and local colder spots such as over northern US for a while this winter due to warmer air in the Arctic pushing colder air further south.
Longer term even in the very worst scenario, global warming doesn't kill us all. However, it does lead to many climate refugees having to evacuate the very hottest parts of the world which if the world was a few degrees hotter, A refugee crisis of millions of people compared to which current crises would pale into insignificance.
The hottest areas of a warmer world become uninhabitable to humans without air conditioning - not constantly but for an occasional day per decade - with the Persian gulf most vulnerable, also parts of India. Meanwhile places like Canada and Northern Russia get warmer and everywhere is able to grow crops suitable for warmer places than before. You also get flooding of places like Bangaldesh, coastal US cities and coastal Chinese cities - with Florida particularly vulnerable as it stands on limestone so you can't use dams like they do in Holland to protect the cities if the sea rises by say another meter (it's not going to rise by tens of meters any time soon, that's thousands of years into the future).
You are talking about a future potential for milions of refugees, or in the worst case, if we did nothing, even billions of them. This is part of the reason why it is a matter of such urgency to do something about it.
But not this year. Those are projections for decades into the future, around 2100 with “Business as usual”. And luckily with the Paris Agreement we are already headed for a future a bit more optimistic than the worst projections.
With the Paris agreement countries worldwide are already doing a lot to combat climate change and even in the US then many Americans are doing their best to combat climate change even while their president is leading in the opposite direction.
TRUMP IS PRESIDENT FOR ONLY THREE MORE YEARS - AND HE IS NOT AN IDEOLOGUE, AND CAN CHANGE HIS MIND
Also, this president has only three years to run in his current term, he is also someone whose decision making is volatile and he could change his mind and decide to stay within.
His views on climate change softened a bit after talking to president Macron. Just a suggestion, but I think he is most influenced by people he see as his peers, which now that he has become the US president, means leaders of large or powerful countries. He listens to them over his own advisers. He learnt from the president of China that the situation in North Korea was more complicated than he had thought - his advisers must have been telling him that ever since he entered office. He also learnt about climate change from president Macron when he met him in France - though they are very different they seem to hit it off a bit so maybe that will make a difference?
One good thing about president Trump - though endlessly exasperating to his colleagues, on both sides of the house, his administration and diplomats and politicians in other countries, is that he is not an ideologue. The opposite. He does not work to a “play book” of ideas or a worked out political position. Instead he often wings it, like a business man making deals. This is both a negative and a positive. It does mean that he can change his position readily, if someone can convince him of the need to do so. He has no need to re-evaluate and reconstruct a complex system of ideas and integrate it into it - or to explain to anyone else how his change of position is consistent with previous things he has said or done. He can just change his decisions and position on the spot. We have never had a US president anything like this before. It is both negative and positive at the same time.
This is my debunk of the idea that climate change could make the Earth too hot for humans.
For more like this, see also List of the articles in my Debunking Doomsday blog to date and you can try searching that page for a word like “Nibiru” or “Yellowstone” or whatever to find articles of interest.
Also if you want to help make a difference, you can sign and share these petitions- and do have a look at the comments to get an idea of the scale of the problem. Click “Join Conversation” to see more of them.
- To Google - please do something about the nonsense in Google News!
- To Youtube: Halt Ads on Doomsday Videos
- To Journalists: Debunk Rather than Dramatize "Doomsday" Stories - The Vulnerable Get Suicidal
You may also be interested in my:
- Google News Without The Nonsense. It’s much the same as Google News, with the sensationalist nonsense fake news filtered out. Try sorting it “by relevance” as well as “by date”
And if you need help - well message me of course and comment on any of these posts - and you can also join our Facebook group Doomsday Debunked. .
You can post there about stories that scare you and get replies from others who help debunk them. Or you can join the No Scary Posts version which only gives debunks (you can use PM's to ask for a post to be debunked).