Setting of the Doomsday Clock at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists for 2019

Setting of the Doomsday Clock at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists for 2019

The Doomsday Clock started measuring the time to midnight in terms of the danger of nuclear war and events.  It now includes risks from climate change and technological advances such as cyber information and biology.

This year, the clock remains at two minutes to midnight.  It was the same last year.  The last time it was this close was in 1953 during the Korean War when Russia first tested a hydrogen bomb.  Before Trump it was at 3 minutes to midnight.  In 2017 its was set to 2.5 minutes to midnight, and in 2018 at 2 minutes to midnight.

Rachel Bronson, President and CEO of the Bulletin, gave the main statement.  These are my short notes, and mistakes are mine.  The Bulletin website has a much more complete 19 page document including the lengthy bios and titles of the security panel.  The Bulletin’s Press Release is here:  https://thebulletin.org/2019/01/press-release-welcome-to-the-new-abnormal/

The Bulletin itself including the video is at https://thebulletin.org/

President Bronson said that the future of civilization is at greater risk.  The goal of the society is to make life better.  The risks of climate change were introduced in 2007.  In 2019, N. Korea is extremely dangerous, and Russia is developing intermediate nuclear cruise missiles.  CO2 is still rising.  The velocity of information can spread fake news rapidly.  The society has labeled this era “The New Abnormal”.

Dr. William Perry, past head of Argonne National Lab, said that this is like 1953 during the Korean War, when the Soviets tested their first hydrogen bomb.  There were also tactical nuclear weapons, Stalin was in charge, and the Red Army outnumbered us 3 to 1 in Europe.  That was the previous time when the clock was at 2 minutes to midnight.  Now there is the danger of a blunder into a nuclear war.  In history, there have been 5 false alarms.  With Russia there is much less danger now.  But there is the danger of a war between India and Pakistan.  And there are the dangers of climate change and cyberattacks.  The nuclear and climate dangers are not being effectively acted upon.  

Sharon Squassoni has a long career in nuclear nonproliferation and arms control.  She said that reliance on nuclear weapons is up, ignoring negotiation and new options for arms control.  In US-Russia, we are going into intermediate range cruise missiles.  There are no new agreements.  The START treaty will die in 2021.  The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banned those with a range between 500 to 5,500 km.  That led to the destruction of almost 2,700 such weapons.  Since 2014, Russia has been violating this, and the US will suspend its treaty obligations on Feb. 4, 2019 (from armscontrol.org).  The START treaty is set to die in 2021.  

The US Missile Defenses, that Trump just announced, will set off a new arms race with Russia and China.  The US withdrew from the Iranian nonproliferation agreement, and other members of that are working to keep it working anyway.  The N. Korea discussions with Kim may go on for a decade or two.  At least we are no longer threatening each other.  There are no arms control works going on.  The Test Ban Treaty has still not been ratified by the US.  The preference is for an arms race.

Susan Solomon is a climate scientist at MIT.  She points out that CO2 is up, and the US emissions also increased (3.7%).  New fossil fuel power plants being installed will last 50 years.  The US withdrew from the 2015 Paris Agreement and goals.  We undercut the IPCC interim report.  2018 was the world’s fourth warmest year.  California, Greece, and Sweden suffered from severe forest fires.  There also were severe heat waves.  Trump said that he did not believe the National Climate Risks report by 13 government agencies.

Herb Lin is senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at the Hoover institute at Stanford University.  He said that information corruption undermines many things, including science.  Cyber enabled information warfare is fast, international, and divisive.  Logic and truth suffer, and this has a strong effect on nuclear decisions and climate change.

Governor Jerry Brown (4 terms in California) is Executive Chair of the Bulletin.  He started out say that the politicians show blindness and stupidity on the nuclear threat.  It was like being on the Titanic dining, and not seeing the iceberg.  It was like playing Russian roulette (with Russia, no less).  We are living on the brink of total Armageddon.  The Trump administration needs the staff to grasp this.  We need to wake people up.  Governor Brown will work on this for the next few years.

William Perry was Secretary of Defense, and helped form the Nuclear Security Project.  He is Chair of the Board of Sponsers of the Bulletin.  He said that N. Korea has 20-30 nuclear weapons.  They have no plans to use them.  The summit meeting had no substance, but reduced the dangers of blundering into a confrontation.  We will not get the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons.

In the question period, Gov. Brown commented on Russiagate.  We need to hold open the challenge of nuclear dialogue.  We need humility in the US in bargaining.  The question of whether the US will acknowledge that Israel possesses nuclear weapons.

On climate change, Gov. Brown said that the nuclear danger and climate change are not at the top of issues for Democratic states for 2020.  Solomon said we are running out of time on these issues.

Robert Rosner, head of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, said that we are close to a disaster.  No dialogue is not okay.  We are not having nonproliferation conversations.  Congress could ratify the Test Ban Treaty.  We could adopt a no-first-use policy. We could remove the triggering of weapons by Trump alone.  Yet we have no dialogue.  We are sleepwalking.

Rosner wrote that we are engaging in the modernization of nuclear forces, which includes rebuilding the arsenal, and making new weapons.  This includes tactical and intermediate range weapons, violating the treaty against them.  We are also starting an arms race.

(People in speeches can give much more pert descriptions than they can in formal writing.  While Gov. Brown spoke on nuclear weapon matters, neither he nor others spoke about the efforts of about half of America to undertake climate actions and match the goals of the Paris agreement. Nor did they mention that we are not actually out of the agreement until the end of Trump’s term.)

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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