January 11, 2012. Washington. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the body that maintains the world-famous Doomsday Clock, moved humanity one minute closer to midnight yesterday. Mankind now stands at 5 minutes to midnight and the end of the world as we know it. Surprisingly, the move had nothing to do with the upcoming December 21, 2012 doomsday prophecy. Instead, scientists cited “inadequate progress on nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, and continuing inaction on climate change.”
Scientists moved the 'Doomsday Clock' one minute closer to midnight yesterday.
Sadly, it was exactly two years ago that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) pushed the clock back one minute. Going from 5 minutes before midnight, to 6 minutes ‘til doomsday, the world was encouraged by global efforts to maintain and uphold nuclear arms reduction treaties among world superpowers. In addition, a number of unpredictable smaller nations, Iraq and Libya to name two, had seen their nuclear programs scrapped. The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 to reduce the world’s carbon emissions, was finally put into action in 2005. Even without the United States support, the only industrialized nation in the world to refuse participation, the future looked bright for humanity.
Now, just two short years later, BAS has moved the world one minute closer to self-destruction. In doing so, the scientific body explained:
“It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007.”
Commenting on his group’s announcement, BAS co-chair Lawrence Krauss said:
“Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leaders are failing to change business as usual. As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions.”
Pointing to nuclear weapons proliferation, the agency criticizes a number of countries for refusing to act on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Those countries include the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel and North Korea. “The world still has over 19,000 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the world’s inhabitants several times over,” BAS Board member Jayantha Dhanapala said.
The Bulletin goes on to level a suspected charge against the United States and Russia of not being forthright regarding their nuclear weapons programs. The BAS announcement states:
“Obstacles to a world free of nuclear weapons remain. Among these are disagreements between the United States and Russia about the utility and purposes of missile defense, as well as insufficient transparency, planning, and cooperation among the nine nuclear weapons states to support a continuing drawdown. The resulting distrust leads nearly all nuclear weapons states to hedge their bets by modernizing their nuclear arsenals. While governments claim they are only ensuring the safety of their warheads through replacement of bomb components and launch systems, as the deliberate process of arms reduction proceeds, such developments appear to other states to be signs of substantial military build-ups.”
Warning the world that mankind may be closer to the ‘point of no return’ than previously thought, BAS Chair Allison Macfarlane explained:
“The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere. The international Energy Agency projects that, unless societies begin building alternatives to carbon-emitting energy technologies over the next five years, the world is doomed to a warmer climate, harsher weather, droughts, famine, water scarcity, rising sea levels, loss of island nations, and increasing ocean acidification. Since fossil-fuel burning power plants and infrastructure built in 2012-2020 will produce energy – and emissions – for 40 to 50 years, the actions taken in the next few years will set us on a path that will be impossible to redirect. Even if policy leaders decide in the future to reduce reliance on carbon-emitting technologies, it will be too late.”
Describing the global divide over nuclear power as a tool to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, the report sums up the opposite stances some nations are taking:
“Russia, China, India, and South Korea will likely continue to construct plants, enrich fuel, and shape the global nuclear power industry. Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and others, are still intent on acquiring civilian nuclear reactors for electricity despite the Fukushima disaster. However, a number of countries have renounced nuclear power, including Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. In Japan, only eight of 54 power plants currently operate because prefecture governors, responding to people's opposition to nuclear power, have not allowed reactors back online. In the United States, increased costs of additional safety measures may make nuclear power too expensive to be a realistic alternative to natural gas and other fossil fuels.”
Energy and Fossil Fuels
Commenting on the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year, the BAS Bulletin says:
“In light of over 60 years of improving reactor designs and developing nuclear fission for safer power production, it is disheartening that the world has suffered another calamitous accident. Given this history, the Fukushima disaster raised significant questions that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board believe must be addressed. Safer nuclear reactor designs need to be developed and built, and more stringent oversight, training, and attention are needed to prevent future disasters. A major question to be addressed is: How can complex systems like nuclear power stations be made less susceptible to accidents and errors in judgment?”
While the catastrophe has devastated parts of Japan, the deadly effects of the nuclear accident have begun spreading worldwide. Months after the Japanese tsunami and resulting radiation leaks, debris began washing ashore on the west coast of the United States, all the way on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
Just two weeks ago, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, confirmed that scores of dead seals washing up on the shores of Alaska’s coast recently are being tested for radiation poisoning. Experts first thought the seals died from a mysterious virus. But after testing for all known viruses, none could be found. Visual symptoms finally pointed scientists into the radiation direction. Dead and dying seals were all found with bloody lesions, irritated skin around the nose and eyes, and patchy hair loss. So far, scientists in charge of the investigation have said it will take weeks before the results of testing are complete.
The BAS report ends with a call to scientists and experts to “join us in engaging ordinary citizens”. “Together,” they insist, “we can present the most significant questions to policymakers and industry leaders. Most important, we can demand answers and action.”
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