The Corpus Callosum

New Bulletin: The Clock Moves

The site is back to normal, only now they have a new, secondary theme.

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They are considering both climate change AND the risk of nuclear catastrophe. Based upon their deliberations, they have moved the clock two minutes closer to midnight. The announcement was made at a conference at the Royal Society in London. Stephen Hawking spoke, as noted by The Independent:

“As we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and a period of unprecedented climate change, scientists have a special responsibility, once again, to inform the public and to advise leaders about the perils that humanity faces,” Professor Hawking said. “As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth.

Although the Bulletin is published in Chicago, they made the announcement in London, possibly to underscore one of the points Hawkings made:

“As citizens of the world, we have a duty to share that knowledge. We have a duty, as well, to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change.

The New York Times provided us with a graphic showing the changes in the Clock over time:

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The terrible irony here is this:

Al Gore, one of the Presidential candidates in the year 2000, had climate change as an item high on his agenda. John Kerry, one of the candidates in 2004, had the security of nuclear material high on his agenda. In 2000, George W. Bush claimed to be concerned about carbon dioxide, although he later flip-flopped on that. Then, in 2004, during one of the debates, he claimed to be very concerned about securing nuclear material. In fact, he agreed with Kerry that the need to secure “loose nukes” was the greatest threat to security that our Nation faces. Despite these acknowledgements, he has chosen to do nothing, or next to nothing, about these problems.

I suspect that the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (somewhat confusingly, the name of the foundation is the same as the name of their publication) have been paying attention to all this, and have noted the inaction on these issues despite the rhetoric. I can’t claim to know what factors went into their decision to advance the Clock by two minutes. But I personally find it more alarming to see that the Administration acknowledges the issues — but does nothing about them — than it would be if they did not acknowledge the problems at all. The reason is this: deliberate inaction, despite an awareness of the threat, implies a systematic error of reasoning. Systematic errors are more worrisome than random or sporadic errors.

Comments

  1. #1 stumpy
    January 18, 2007

    Lots of religious right fundamentalists believe that Jesus is due to return any minute, as part of the Rapture. Maybe Bush believes this too. If so, that might explain why he hasn’t taken any action on climate change, loose nukes, or anything else that worries sane people. If the world is going to come to an end soon anyhow, why get worked up?

  2. #2 Greg P
    January 21, 2007

    I see this as perhaps well-intentioned yet muddied thinking by reasonably intelligent people.

    I think we’re quite far away from “nuclear Armageddon”. What we may be getting closer to are some possibility that nuclear weapons in the hands of idiots are used to create some massive local disaster, then the world has to deal with the dangers of the subsequent nuclear fallout for years afterward.