Yesterday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hand of their clock from six minutes to five minutes to midnight. So what? Was it just running a bit slow or something? Not so reliable these atomic clocks after all?
Except this is no actual ‘atomic clock’. Neither is it one that keeps te time as such. The BAS is an academic journal that goes back to the roots of the Cold War. Following the advent of the nuclear age in 1945, the Bulletin was established by the scientists and engineers who’d worked on the Manhattan Project with the aim of warning the public about the potentially catestrophic consequences of the very weapons they developed. From 1947, they began displaying a clock on the front of their bulletin with the minute hand set at a certain time before 12 am i.e. midnight. The concept has always been, since this time, that the closer the hand to midnight, the greater likelihood of humanity facing nuclear Armageddon – in the judgement of the scientists, that is.
The Bulletin is not, however, some declaration by a bunch of cranks trying to predict the end of the world (like the clown who stated last year that the ‘rapture’ was going to happen on some date in May!) It is, in fact, a serious academic journal based on sober analysis of current affairs and developments. I first encountered it when studying nuclear strategy at University.
The decision as to where to set the clock has always been taken by a Board of Sponsors which apparently includes Nobel laureates. Since 2007, however, this decision has not just been based on the possibility of nuclear conflagration (and, believe me, the threat is still very much there!) It is now also set on the possibility of catastrophe due to human-induced Climate Change.
Since 2010, the clock has been set at six minutes to midnight. Apparently, this was due to the fact the the Board considered then that world leaders then were making a serious effort to deal with the problem.
Unfortunately, they now seem to have changed their minds. As stated above, its now moved to five. Not surprising really, given the abject failure of the recent Durban conference – as well other possible indicators suggesting that we are under threat from Climate Change. (And, of course, there is still the nuclear problem anyway – anybody forgotten about Iran and North Korea?)
Okay, I’m not trying to scare you or anything (not much, I hear you say!) However, my point is this. These are academics and scientists with serious agendas to follow (though to judge from some of the hysterical comments made in response to the Daily Mail article that originally reported on this, you’d think they were a bunch of apocalypse-obsessed nut jobs!) If they make such pronouncements, notice should be taken. As I said above, that was the whole point of the BAS in the first place.
Besides, its still only five minutes at the moment. Its not two minutes, or one – yet! Maybe we should give them some incentive to move the clock way back?
Just a thought…
Until the next time…
(PS – as an update, this is how MSN has reported this story. Good summary!)