As of Jan. 26, 2017, the world sits at the brink of an apocalyptic catastrophe; the Doomsday Clock is the closest it has been to midnight since its inception following the Second World War. The direst year, according to the clock, is 1953 due to nuclear posturing by both the Soviet Union and the United States. Both powers tested thermonuclear weapons above ground, signaling the beginning of what we know today as the Cold War. The founders of the Doomsday Clock, nuclear physicists who participated in the Manhattan Project, feared the opening of a Pandora’s box in regards to atomic energy and nuclear weapons. The curiosity and the fears associated with the dawn of the atomic age fueled scientists to form the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, an annual academic journal whose front page features the Doomsday Clock as well as a rationale describing how the clocks metrics are decided upon.
Today, the Clock sits at two and a half minutes to midnight. The rationale? Increased threat of technological capabilities, the threat of environmental catastrophe, climate change, and if you hadn’t guessed it already, Donald J, Trump. The 54th President of the United States is named nine times in a sixteen-page report on the potential threats modern society faces in 2017. In fact, the rationale behind Trump being such a threat is as wide-ranging as it is fantastically farfetched.
According to the sixteen-page Doomsday Clock statement issued on Jan. 27, there is a long list of factors that the Trump administration brings to the possibility of the apocalypse, including the proposed increased nuclear proliferation and the modernization of the American nuclear triad. The nuclear triad is the delivery system that true nuclear powers use to deliver nuclear payloads; the three portions of the triad being bomber by air, nuclear submarines hauling intercontinental ballistic missiles, and ground based launch of missiles from underground silos. Trump proposes increased security and updated capabilities where the American nuclear arsenal is concerned. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists continues to explain that the current state of nuclear escalation between nations such as Iran and North Korea furthers the notion that a nuclear holocaust is a potential outcome.
Since 2007, the Doomsday Clock Statement has expanded its role to encompass nuclear catastrophe and the potential for environmental catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale. This means that the Doomsday Clock not only reflects the potential for a nuclear exchange, but it also reflects the probability of catastrophic climate change and destabilization of the environment.
To better understand how the commission interprets threats to the environment, this excerpt from the Science and Security Board Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists provides context:
“The political situation in the United States is of particular concern. The Trump transition team has put forward candidates for cabinet-level positions (especially at the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department) who foreshadow the possibility that the new administration will be openly hostile to progress toward even the most modest efforts to avert catastrophic climate disruption. Climate change should not be a partisan political issue. The well-established physics of Earth’s carbon cycle is neither liberal nor conservative in character. The planet will continue to warm to dangerous levels so long as carbon dioxide continues to be pumped into the atmosphere— regardless of who is chosen to lead the United States or any other country”.
Needless to say, the warnings issued should be heeded, but with a grain of salt. It is useful to maintain perspective when discussing the concept of global nuclear catastrophe, especially where Donald J. Trump is concerned. Experts of all kinds and creeds denounced Trump’s election odds, labeling him an anti-intellectual, and an untrustworthy populist with authoritarian tendencies and a taste for playing international games of chicken. Trump epitomizes the threats the Doomsday Clock is designed to measure. While this is all objectively true, the Doomsday Clock does not account for Trumps love of country, Trumps determination to be well liked, or Trumps desire to be viewed as a successful president; this analysis does not leave room for such things. Doomsday does not wait on positive traits; it orbits around the potential for extreme catastrophe.