THE world is closer than ever to apocalypse. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) was founded in 1945 by scientists who developed the atomic bomb. These bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the single greatest act of state terror. Two years later, the BAS created the Doomsday Clock (DDC) “using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosions (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.”
At the beginning of the Cold War, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. Since then, it has been reset 24 times by the BAS in consultation with its board of sponsors — which today includes 13 Nobel laureates. The DDC came as close as two minutes to midnight after the hydrogen bomb tests of the US and the USSR in 1953; and again after the failure of world leaders to address the twin challenges of the nuclear threat and climate change in 2018. On Jan 23, 2020 it has been set at 100 seconds (one minute and 40 seconds) to midnight!
Very soon, climate change will become irreversible. This death era is expected to begin between 2030 and 2050.
In its latest assessment, the BAS noted that “humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential challenges — nuclear war and climate change — that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”
This has happened in the Anthropocene geological epoch in which human activity, instead of natural processes, is the major factor in determining the rate of global warming. Some experts date the beginning of this epoch to post-World War II when the second industrial revolution took off. If not checked and reversed, very soon this human exacerbated climate change will become irreversible, exponential and increasingly difficult to adapt to. This death era is expected to begin between 2030 and 2050. It will terminate human society as we know it by the end of the current century or the beginning of the next. This is no longer scientific conjecture. It is scientific consensus.
There are currently four broad responses to this scientific consensus: (a) it is wrong; (b) if not, there is little we can do about it, so ignore it; (c) even if we could do something the national and international structures of power would prevent us; and (d) we have a small but closing window of opportunity in which to do what is required on a scale and at a speed never done before. This last opportunity is a “green new deal” in which climate change policies are integrated with transformational political, economic and social policies.
This unprecedented global task cannot be ignored just because it is considered “impossible.” Otherwise, increasingly frequent and devastating natural disasters; food, water and clean air losses; new and unstoppable epidemics; planetary incapacity to carry the current population; an explosion of climate refugees; ever rising and never falling global temperatures; resource wars in and between countries; and pathologically racist ideologies that will advocate selective mass culling of “surplus, inferior and disposable” human populations will overwhelm the human capacity for rational, ethical and humanitarian thinking and policies. ‘Roz-e-Hashar’ shall have arrived!
Tragically, the current world, regional and national leaderships are by and large morally incapable of urgently implementing on the global and multi-level scale such policies that they know to be the condition for human survival. The old man who embodies this evil irresponsibility above all others is the President Trump. The young woman who embodies humanity’s struggling hope to survive against the odds is Sweden’s 17-year-old Greta Thunberg. He represents insatiable Corporate American greed and its miserable minions who are destroying the world. She represents the determination of the youth to save the world through implementing the consensus of the scientists.
According to the latest BAS report, “the world is sleepwalking through a newly unstable nuclear landscape. The arms control boundaries are being steadily dismantled. The US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), re-imposed sanctions on Iran, and assassinated General Qasim Soleimani which resulted in Iran’s announcement it would no longer observe limits of the JCPOA on the number of its centrifuges to enrich uranium. As a result, the world is headed into an unregulated nuclear environment in which deterrence calculations become more complicated. An unconstrained North Korea could further destabilise the nuclear landscape.” For similar reasons, ignoring the unfolding tragedy in India-held Kashmir is unconscionable.
On information warfare, the BAS says “the recent emergence of ‘deepfakes’ — audio and visual recordings that are essentially undetectable as false — threatens to further undermine the ability of citizens and decision makers to separate truth from fiction. The resulting falsehoods hold the potential to create economic, social and military chaos, increasing the possibility of misunderstandings and provocations that could lead to war” and policy confusion towards other existential challenges. Accordingly, “agreement on facts is essential to democracy and effective collective action to prevent war and climate disaster”.
BAS also notes “the overall global trend is towards complex, high-tech, highly automated, high speed warfare. The computerised and increasingly AI-assisted nature of militaries, the sophistication of their weapons, and the new more aggressive military doctrines asserted by the most heavily armed countries could result in global catastrophe.” The BAS observes all these developing threats were seen coming “but were allowed to occur resulting in an untenable new normal.” This irresponsibility is a “sign of fundamental dysfunction in the world’s efforts to manage and reduce existential risk.” Unsurprisingly, for the first time ever, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is less than two minutes from midnight.
Accordingly, Pakistan’s national and foreign policies will have to be framed, communicated and implemented within the context of the existential threats of nuclear annihilation and climate death. Democratic governance, longer-term policy formulation, and the ability to see the big picture are indispensable. Anybody there?
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2020