The Tick Tock of the Doomsday Clock

The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock will stay at five minutes to midnight for the year 2013, say the scientists and experts at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists who maintain one of the world’s most famous time pieces.

In an open letter to President Obama, the setters of the Doomsday Clock say 2012 was a year of “unrealized opportunity to reduce nuclear stockpiles, to lower the immediacy of destruction from missiles on alert, and to control the spread of fissile materials and keep nuclear terrorism at bay.” The “stasis of 2012” convinced the distinguished Science and Security Board organized by the Bulletin to leave hands of the clock in place.

The board includes 18 Nobel Laureates. I had the pleasure of dining with several of them when the board met in Washington late last year to deliberate. This is a brilliant group who take their responsibility very seriously. The clock is perhaps the world’s best-known indicator of our vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other areas, particularly cyber technologies.

The scientists’ letter complements President Obama on measures taken in his first term to reduce these global threats. “We see progress,” they say, “but we also see how much remains to be done.” They call on the President to reduce the nuclear arsenal to under 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, announce an effort to stop the production of fissile materials (plutonium and highly-enriched uranium used in nuclear weapons) and eliminate existing stocks worldwide.

The scientists also conclude that “arguments for keeping all three legs of the triad (nuclear-armed missiles, submarines and bombers) are less convincing than they may have been in the past. The triad is an expensive legacy of a bygone era.”

The authors are optimistic about the future, as indicated by the decision not to move the clock closer to midnight. “We see 2013 as a year for vision and engagement,” they write, “Humanity awaits the U.S. leadership that can secure a future free of nuclear weapons.”

The scientists also outline several actions the President can take to slow the disastrous global climate change. Noting that over the past five years, power generation from renewable sources of energy “expanded nearly fourfold in the United States and even more so in other countries,” they recommend several practical steps for reducing carbon emissions and rationalizing the energy markets.

An open letter to President Obama: The time on the Doomsday Clock is five minutes to midnight