The legendary Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), which tracks issues related to technology and global security, has issued a terrifying warning: We are less than two minutes to midnight on the apocalypse clock. It is very bad news, representing "the most dangerous situation humanity has ever faced."
What makes this moment so dangerous? The scientists' statement includes warnings about information cyber weaponry, the spread of artificial intelligence (AI) in military decision-making, the destruction of treaties aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, the abandonment of global agreements to limit climate chaos, the spread of genetic engineering and synthetic biology technologies, and more. It does not take into account the increasing probability of disasters in atomic reactors, but should be based on at least one BAS publication.
Since 1947, this prestigious band of elite scientists and global thinkers has been putting out a “watch” designed to measure the danger of a global apocalypse. First published at the dawn of the Cold War, it has focused primarily on the dangers of atomic warfare. His countdown to Armageddon has been set at a distance of up to 17 minutes from midnight, a hypothetical time of human extinction. That relatively optimistic assessment came in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the final end of the Cold War.
In 2018, the BAS established it in two minutes, the closest to catastrophe it has ever been. They repeated that estimate in 2019. But this year's announcement has brought us within the two-minute warning with a blood-curdling litany of likely deadly catastrophes that will strike in 100 theoretical seconds.
Donald Trump is mentioned only once by name, along with his decision to destroy the Paris Accords on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists urge "whoever wins the 2020 election" to restore the United States' commitment to limiting carbon and other emissions that destroy the climate. The BAS also cites Brazilian dictator Jair Bolsonaro for his decision to allow the destruction of the Amazon, with huge impacts on the climate.
The BAS strives to maintain a non-partisan image. But Trump's presence in the White House clearly hangs over any assessment of humanity's survival. The specter of his finger on the nuclear, ecological and financial buttons for the next four years hangs over humanity like a pallor, but it is not mentioned in this assessment of doomsday.
The question of more than 450 nuclear power reactors worldwide is not mentioned either. A small but vocal atypical cabal has argued that nuclear power fights global warming by emitting less carbon than coal burners. But the Bulletin recently enshrined an important assessment by the esteemed Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, warning that commercial reactors pose a serious threat to human survival on this planet.
The BAS strives to maintain a non-partisan image. But Trump's presence in the White House clearly hangs over any assessment of humanity's survival.
Published in August 2019, "The False Promise of Nuclear Power in an Age of Climate Change" argues that the 450 atomic reactors now deteriorating around the world pose an existential threat to our survival. Writing with Professor Naomi Oreskes, Lifton cautions that atomic energy "is expensive and poses serious dangers to our physical and psychological well-being." Citing nuclear juice costs at $ 100 per megawatt-hour versus $ 50 for solar and $ 30-40 for onshore wind, the authors say the industry suffers from a "negative learning curve," causing the costs of nuclear weapons are constantly higher, while those of renewable energy are constantly decreasing.
Citing the unresolved problem of radioactive waste management, the BAS article warns of the continuing impacts of major disasters like Fukushima and Chernobyl (and potentially more to come), the consequences of which kill humans and cause incalculable damage to global ecology. . Lipton and Oreskes say we need to free ourselves “from the false hope that a technology designed for ultimate destruction” can lead to our salvation. They encourage "renewable energy to be an integral part of the American way of life."
In addition to nuclear and climate issues, the 2020 Doomsday assessment highlights some relatively new concerns. "In the last year," he says, "many governments used cyber disinformation campaigns to sow mistrust in institutions and among nations, undermining national and international efforts to promote peace and protect the planet."
By attacking both science and the structure of international peace agreements, some world leaders have created "a situation that, if left unaddressed, will lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later."
That situation includes AI and hypersonic warfare, both escalating "at a frantic rate." Now used in ultra-fast attacks, AI is dangerously vulnerable to "hacking and manipulation" while making "decisions to kill without human supervision." In nuclear command and control systems, the BAS warns, research and experience have shown the vulnerability of these systems to "hacking and manipulation."
This is an absolutely terrifying beer. The spread of misinformation, disregard for science and expert opinion, the weakening of global agreements on arms control, and climate change are all deadly. Add in the new world of AI and hypersonic warfare, then rack up autocrats like Trump and Bolsonaro, and end the certainty of more disasters of 450 outdated and crumbling atomic reactors.
Overall, it is not surprising that the Bulletin has taken us beyond the two minute warning. It will clearly take every ounce of our activist force to save our species from the final whistle.
By Harvey Wasserman, article in English in Truthout