Doomsday Clock

“It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

A scene from the latest blockbuster apocalypse movie? No. The words of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In January they changed the time shown on their Doomsday Clock from three to two and a half minutes to midnight, indicating “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”

The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work.” The organisation’s early years chronicled the dawn of the nuclear age and the birth of the scientists’ movement, as told by the men and women who built the atomic bomb and then lobbied with both technical and humanist arguments for its abolition.

Only once since then, in 1953, has their Doomsday Clock sat closer to the precipice than it does now, but the latest update makes it clear that the threats to the planet have expanded considerably:

“In addition to the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, new global realities emerged, as trusted sources of information came under attack. Fake news was on the rise, and words were used in cavalier and often reckless ways.”

But is this just doom-mongering from an institution initiated to ease its guilt about the monster they had created? On a gloriously sunny Wednesday afternoon the dangers seem to melt away quicker than the polar ice caps, and thoughts of Armageddon are left to the Hollywood scriptwriters.

Perhaps it is our island mentality that blocks out distant thoughts of rising temperatures, both literally and politically. And anyhow, we have more pressing concerns closer to home. The increasing level of threat to the planet has of course been mirrored in the UK with the UK terror threat level recently raised to its highest level of “critical” (it has now been lowered to merely “severe”) for only the third time in its history and the first time since the Glasgow Airport attack ten years ago.

We keep an eye out for suspicious packages, we are more aware of our surroundings in public places and we sometimes change our travel plans. We accept and even cherish CCTV, armed police and military personnel on our streets as upholders of our democratic freedom. So have ‘they’ changed our way of life? Yes, in a sense they have, but only in the sense that putting on a seatbelt is a sensible security measure rather than an infringement of our civil liberties.

They have not, and will not, defeat our way of life. We will still go to pop concerts, and walk across bridges, and drink in pubs. We will still rush to the aid of a stricken human being, and offer compassion to strangers without asking their religion or noting the colour of their skin. We are better than them. We will overcome.

Sure, I worry about the world my children are growing up in and my grandchildren will inherit, but not too much. Naturally parents worry, about vodka and girlfriends and LSD and whether they are doing any work at all for their A levels. But worrying too much would be a small victory for them, and they cannot and will not win on any level.

I am drawn to the emotive language of the Atomic Scientists, which hints at a populist uprising against ignorant governments. Who are these “wise officials and citizens who will guide humanity away from the brink”? I do not know. Perhaps they are not heroes in the traditional sense, and no Hollywood movie will tell their tale. I like to think that they are you and I, who continue to live our lives the way we choose and refuse to allow ourselves to be blighted by fear of North Korea or public spaces.

So on this beautiful sunny Wednesday be happy. Smile at strangers. Laugh with your friends. Have fun, have sex, have children. Go to concerts and sports events. Go out and grab life. Eat. Drink. Travel. Embrace. Enjoy. That is how we shall save the world. There is no other way.