Reset the Doomsday Clock?

by Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA

Thirty years ago I worked with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) studying the health consequences of nuclear weapons. Even if they were never used, these weapons–their manufacture and testing–harmed populations. All over the world governments had mined uranium, and assembled and tested nuclear weapons. To create atomic arsenals, every nuclear power had dangerously polluted and contaminated environments where people live and work.  And governments usually kept secret from civilians the consequences –cancers, birth defects, and continuing environmental degradation capable of harming future generations.

Thermonuclear weapons–bombs and missile warheads–could destroy life on our earth.  Everyone on earth used to depend on this ever-present risk of annihilation to deter use.  As IPPNW studied the health damage from mining, manufacturing, and testing these weapons, we found ourselves consulting the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.  Many times since 1947, the Bulletin had reset the hands of the clock to indicate how close the world was to doomsday.

The closer the clock moved toward midnight, the more likely that life on the planet was about to come to an end. Bulletin nuclear scientists set the clock at 23h58 in 1953, when the two nuclear powers escalated beyond fission weapons and began testing thermonuclear or fusion weapons. They backed the clock further away from midnight when the Bulletin considered nuclear doomsday less likely, as in 1963, when the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty.

Since 2007, the Bulletin has adjusted the Doomsday Clock to reflect the danger to the world of global warming in addition to nuclear weapons. In January of this year, the Bulletin announced its latest decision about where to set the clock. They left the clock at three minutes before midnight, writing:

“…our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016…is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change.”

And that was before the United States had picked its candidates for President. Why should the US election affect the Doomsday Clock months before a new President is sworn in?

Donald Trump, in suggesting that the US had shown excessive restraint in the past, and that he might use nuclear weapons against ISIS, spelled out a decidedly more aggressive US nuclear weapons policy. And Hillary Clinton, too, used a specific threat to describe how she as President would use nuclear weapons.  In 2008 she said that if Iran attacked Israel, she would attack Iran. “…[W]e would be able to totally obliterate them…”

Thus both presidential candidates have moved away from Barack Obama’s restraint. Surely, to alert the world that the danger of nuclear war has increased, it is time for the Bulletin to consider moving the hands of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA is co-Editor of the Journal of Public Health Policy. (Facebook page here.) He directed the Vermont Department of Health, the Colorado Department of Health, the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the U.S. National Vaccine Program.

 

Comments

  1. #1 Barthold
    September 8, 2016

    “Thirty years ago I worked with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) studying the health consequences of nuclear weapons.”

    I am working since 1970 together with LPPNW (Local Plumbers for the Prevention of Nuclear War) with great success. No nuclear war for nearly 50 years.

  2. #2 Clair Michalewicz
    Biddeford, ME
    September 11, 2016

    Most people do not think about the affects that nuclear weapons have on our planet. Not only do they destroy everything surrounding the site of the drop, but the radiation that enters our planet leaves lasting consequences. The radiation destroys our ozone layer and makes locations inhabitable. The radiation in the rivers, lakes, and reservoirs near Chernobyl has settled at the bottom in an insoluble state and will remain that way for about 800 years. The two parties running for president need to think about the affects that radiation will have on our planet instead of only thinking about the immediate benefits of nuclear weapons.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2016

    I’m calling it: False equivalence.

    There is absolutely no similarity between a candidate (Trump) who is openly suggesting that he would use nuclear weapons after being elected and a nine year old statement by another candidate (Clinton) that does not mention nuclear weapons.

    None.

    Go ahead and reset the clock. But, if Trump is elected, set it at one minute to midnight. If Clinton is elected, not so much.

  4. #4 jane
    September 21, 2016

    At least the targets of Trump’s bigoted bloodlust are mostly peoples who can’t fight back effectively. Hillary and her fellow neocons think that they can continue to encircle and strangle Russia, overthrow neighboring governments (if not the Russian government itself), and the consequences can only be that Russia yields ground until there is none left. Hillary’s likely SecState would be Victoria “Yats Is Our Guy” Nuland, who is still enraged that her gambit to take away Russia’s only warm-water port failed. The likelihood that these people will miscalculate and start a shooting war with the only other nation holding a stash of NBC weapons comparable to our own seems alarmingly high.

    Mind you, I’m still voting for Billary. If we’re going to nuke someone, let it be someone who can nuke us back. That is justice.

  5. #5 cleek
    October 12, 2016

    ” And Hillary Clinton, too, used a specific threat to describe how she as President would use nuclear weapons.”

    no, she didn’t. you’re lying.

  6. #6 Wizzy
    Germany
    October 14, 2016

    I don’t know much about Hillary. But I strongly think that if she will be in power, even if she bickers russia, there will be some common sense on both sides to not let it escalate to nuclear. Putin is a power-hungry de-facto-dictator, but like Hillary not stupid or suicidal. However, Trump is in my eyes a potentially dangerous and ignorant wild card, though I presume U.S.’ checks and balances would temper him to some extent.

  7. #7 carol green
    December 22, 2016

    It is now time to reset the clock. Where is the timekeeper?

  8. #8 carol green
    December 22, 2016

    Someone needs to reset the Doomsday Clock. Where is the Timekeeper?