Posted by Ian
The end of the world officially got closer at 2.30pm on Wednesday.
That was the moment when scientists altered the planet’s Doomsday Clock to better reflect our proximity to armageddon. The Clock, conceived in 1947, is about as stark an embodiment of our world’s wellbeing as you can get. During its 60-year existence it has been shifted forwards and backwards as the likelihood of nuclear destruction has waxed and waned.
It hit two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the US and USSR openly tested thermonuclear warheads. It then sank back to 12 minutes to midnight by 1963 when both powers signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty limiting atmospheric nuclear testing. Fast forward to 1984, however, and the Clock was up at three minutes to the hour in the wake of President Reagan’s gung-ho attitude towards the Cold War. Come 1991 it was safely down at 17 minutes thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Recently, though, we’ve been creeping back towards zero hour. The last update was in 2002 when the Clock was moved to seven minutes to midnight to represent the threat of nuclear terrorism and George W. Bush’s antipathy towards disarmament. And now it has changed again. In a co-ordinated announcement in London and New York, scientists reported that the minute hand has been brought forwards a full 120 seconds. We are now five minutes away from a nuclear holocaust.
To be honest, I was expecting it to be closer. I was anticipating four, even three minutes to midnight, such is the perilous condition of the world and the way a climate of fear is being stoked by aggressors of both the elected (the United States) and unelected (North Korea) kind.
But maybe it’s right to not be too alarmist – yet. Much of that tangible feeling of catastrophe is just that: a feeling. The likelihood of actual nuclear meltdown perhaps isn’t as great as, to use that brutally clinical phrase, ‘conventional’ war: conflict between real people using guns and tanks and missiles.
Moreover, the threat from environmental disaster currently seems just as potent as that from any manmade weapon. One manifestation of this, the battle to save certain species from extinction, we featured on the homepage on Wednesday. Another, the thorny issue of carbon offsetting – which we investigated last weekend – seems to bedevil even Tony Blair. If we, as a nation, can’t figure out how to solve the destructive capability of our own dustbin or our holiday travel plans, you do wonder what hope there is for inching towards worldwide nuclear disarmament.
As the Doomsday Clock ticks on, one thing above all else strikes me as true. Demonising those who you fear – calling them part of an "axis of evil", for instance – merely breeds more fear and accelerates the chances of destruction rather than peace. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, America’s greatest ever President, speaking in 1933 at a moment of comparable global anxiety:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
Can you imagine Bush ever saying something so enduringly, poetically profound?