It's still two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock
Opinion | Don't fall for the doomsday predictions
Earth's greatest natural resource is the human brain. And it may also be among the least appreciated, judging from the persistent doom and gloom, going back centuries, over the supposed menace of overpopulation. Wishing for fewer human brains on Earth is like wishing for fewer diamonds or rubies.
Yet few wrong ideas have been more persistent than the fear of too many people. British cleric Thomas Robert Malthus promoted the terror of apocalyptic overpopulation in a memorable 1798 treatise.
Doomsday Clock: it is still two minutes to midnight
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
"Two minutes to midnight! The hands that threaten doom!" squealed Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson in their 1984 record, Two Minutes To Midnight. The song by the British heavy metal band referenced the Doomsday Clock used by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which represents a countdown to potential global catastrophe.
When Dickinson and Adrian Smith wrote the song, it was a protest against nuclear war. In the year they composed it for their Powerslave album, the clock adjusted from four to three minutes following tensions between the United States and Soviet Union - both testing H-bombs within nine months of one another.
The Doomsday Clock is now at two minutes to midnight. It moved to that time last year - for the first time since 1953 - and it has stayed that way as nuclear weapons and climate change pose two simultaneous existential threats.
The symbolic clock has been ticking away since its inception in 1947 starting at seven minutes to midnight, to "reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age". The hands have been adjusted 23 times, fluctuating between two and 17 minutes to midnight. The furthest from midnight the Doomsday Clock has ever been set was at the end of the Cold War in 1991. We are now back to its closest distance.
Dr Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, warns about the "new abnormal" in the current world security situation.
"This new abnormal is a pernicious and dangerous departure from the time when the United States sought a leadership role in designing and supporting global agreements that advanced a safer and healthier planet," she said.
"The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time. The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats and lulling citizens around the world into a dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis."
The decision to move the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock - or in this case, leave it in place - falls to the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. In a statement to the leaders and citizens of the world, they argue that the new abnormal is "simply too volatile and dangerous to accept as a continuing state of world affairs".
They said: "The current situation - in which intersecting nuclear, climate, and information warfare threats all go insufficiently recognised and addressed, when they are not simply ignored or denied - is unsustainable.
"The longer world leaders and citizens carelessly inhabit this new and abnormal reality, the more likely the world is to experience catastrophe of historic proportions."
Despite the dire predictions, the Bulletin adds that there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future. Humans can manage the dangers, as they did when leaders in the United States and the Soviet Union took action, and ended the Cold War in the 1990s.
It is still two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, but the hands can move backwards, rather than edging nearer to oblivion.