Ignore the Doomsday Clock; the world’s not ending soon.

The doomsday soothsayers have never been correct in their estimations of the danger Earth faces

On January 23rd, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board moved the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight. This is the closest the clock, and by hypothetical extension, all of humanity, has been to the end. Which should be all you need to know to ignore the clock and the warnings behind it.

This the first time since the organization’s founding in 1947 that the scientists, intellectuals, and politicians behind the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists count our extinction in terms of mere seconds, instead of minutes or hours. They base their violent forebodings on three hazards: nuclear war, climate change, and fake news. Consider everything that has happened since 1947 and try to take their warning seriously.

During the Korean War there was serious discussion of using nuclear weapons on mainland China. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world two weeks of nail-biting terror as military hawks from the two most heavily armed civilizations in human history stared each other down. The USSR almost launched a full nuclear strike against the US after sunlight reflecting off of clouds confused their systems. American nuclear forces once went on full alert because of a bear in Minnesota. Yet the executive chair of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the former California Governor Jerry Brown, wants you to believe that “Dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder.”

The threats of climate change are, for some reason, worse now than they were last year. Every year there are fewer fossil fuels burned than the previous year. The global percentage of energy from renewable sources increases every year. Awareness of the global and local dangers of climate change is at its highest and show every indication of growing further. The eighteen countries responsible for nearly 30% of global carbon emissions have been decreasing their emissions every year for fifteen years and many other countries are set to follow in their example. But feckless politicians rejecting the fundamentally ineffective and toothless Paris Agreement leads us to “the most dangerous situation that humanity has ever faced?”

The third and final cause touted by the Bulletin for our imminent doom is “Cyber-Enabled Disinformation Campaigns.” Russian hackers, Chinese wumao, and partisan trolls of all manner have all manner of things to answer for but the suggestion that trashy memes and disinformation campaigns are somehow new or apocalyptic is historically ignorant. Even if people really did get the majority of their news from social media – which they do not – the idea that Facebook or Twitter pose a greater danger to world peace than the NYT and Washington Post credulously and greedily lying us into war with Iraq is offensively absurd. Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg not only are far more honest than Joseph Pulitzer or William Hearst ever were, their respective companies pose less danger as well. Social media has yet to start any wars and so far not covered up horrendous atrocities.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has an admirable goal: equip the public, policymakers, and scientists with the information needed to reduce man-made threats to our existence. We should all be glad intelligent, educated people care enough to monitor world situations. But their clock is broken and, unlike the saying, will never be right. It can’t be. Their mission may be laudable but it is inherently unquantifiable.

“Whenever Doomsday Clock time rolls around, I roll my eyes,” said Michael D. Lemonick, Chief Opinion Editor for Scientific American, in 2016, “because the Clock doesn’t actually gauge anything measurable.” Kim Jong-un’s mood isn’t something you can scale and prepare for; if he wants to go full on Rocket-man, we can’t predict it. The Doomsday Clock didn’t budge when Canadian geese almost triggered a nuclear war. The Bulletin didn’t issue stern announcements during the ozone hole crisis.

Listen to the science. Ignore the clock.

Thomas Brown is a history teacher and recovering political consultant hiding out in the American South. He is also managing editor of The Swamp and has been published in The Bipartisan PressAlaska Native NewsGENHuman EventsTimes of IsraelDialogue & DiscourseFollow him at his Medium page and argue with him on Twitter: @reallythistoo.

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Categories: climate change, Media, Society, The Swamp

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