Tuesday July 05, 2022

Doomsday clock

May 16, 2020

Remember the threats of nuclear war and climate change? After a few months of life with the coronavirus pandemic, the existential threats to humankind that once dominated so much of our thinking may seem much more removed from today than they are.

In fact, as the person who convened the Jan. 23, 2020 announcement in which the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its iconic Doomsday Clock twenty seconds closer to midnight, I have been asked more than once, “How did the Doomsday Clock miss the coronavirus?”

The truth is that it didn’t.

While concerns about climate change and nuclear war were the major drivers in moving the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the 2020 statement issued by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists returns over and over again to the same underlying problem: The deliberate erosion by politicians of science and our core institutions.

As the Doomsday Clock Statement notes: “Over the last two years, we have seen influential leaders denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats … in favor of their own narrow interests and domestic political gain. By undermining cooperative, science- and law-based approaches to managing the most urgent threats to humanity, leaders have helped to create a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later.”

In recent years, we have seen a growing group of national leaders dismiss information with which they do not agree as fake news and advance their own untruths for domestic political gain. Scientists and experts are being marginalized just as their findings are most needed to navigate increasingly complex and global 21st century challenges.

As we pointed out back then, “In the United States, there is active political antagonism toward science and a growing sense of government-sanctioned disdain for expert opinion, creating fear and doubt regarding well-established science about climate change and other urgent challenges.”

Four months later, I read those words and I am chilled by the extent to which they anticipated the early denial in the US of the coronavirus pandemic threat, the downplaying and delaying of needed public health responses, the “China virus” references, the vilifying of prominent scientists, and so forth. It is a disastrous succession of falling dominoes made possible by four years of shredding science, mocking scientists and other experts and catering to conspiracy theories instead of nurturing our previously most trusted institutions.

Excerpted from: 'Something Like Coronavirus Is Exactly What the Doomsday Clock Has Been Warning About'.