Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - Page 7 News List

‘Doomsday’ edges closer: scientists

TICK-TOCK:Scientists said that the doomsday clock is now at three minutes to midnight, with climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons the key threats

AFP, WASHINGTON

Climate change and the danger of nuclear war pose an ever-growing threat to civilization and are bringing the world closer to doomsday, a group of prominent scientists and Nobel laureates said on Thursday.

“It is now three minutes to midnight,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists executive director Kennette Benedict said, as the group moved its symbolic “Doomsday Clock” two minutes forward.

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947. It has changed 18 times since then, ranging from two minutes to midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991.

The clock has been at five minutes to midnight since 2012 and the last time it was three minutes to midnight was in 1983, during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.

“Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity,” Benedict said. “And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe.”

The scientists called on people to demand action from their leaders to curb fossil fuel pollution and to stop developing ever more modern nuclear weapons that are endangering the planet.

“We are not saying it is too late to take action, but the window for action is closing rapidly. The world needs to be awakened from its lethargy and start making changes,” Benedict said.

Such actions should cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the group said.

“Efforts at reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases have so far been entirely insufficient,” said Richard Somerville, a member of the Science and Security Board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and a distinguished professor emeritus and research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego.

“Unless much greater emissions reductions occur very soon, the countries of the world will have emitted enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the end of this century to profoundly transform the Earth’s climate,” he said, adding that last year was the hottest on record and that the tipping point of ice loss in west Antarctica has been reached, meaning the melt is now unstoppable.

The climate changes that humans are driving “will harm millions of people and will threaten many key ecological systems on which civilization relies,” Somerville said.

The scientists also called for dramatically reduced spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs and a renewed focus on disarmament.

Benedict said that the world has about 16,300 nuclear weapons, which she described as “far too many.”

While the US and Russia have far fewer weapons today than they did during the Cold War, the disarmament process has “ground to a halt,” said Sharon Squassoni, a member of the Science and Security Board, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Meanwhile, the US has invested big money in modernizing its nuclear weapons systems, with about US$355 billion planned for the next decade, while Russia is also upgrading its nuclear weapons, Squassoni said.

The UK has halved its nuclear arsenal stockpile since 2010, but continues to support its nuclear submarine program. France is also building a next-generation air-to-ground nuclear missile, while China is developing a new class of ballistic missile submarines, she said.

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