ANDREW GLIKSON. Imagining the real: Two minutes to mid-night on the Clock of the Atomic Scientists

On January 24, 2019, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated: “Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention. These major threats—nuclear weapons and climate change—were exacerbated this past year (2018) by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.”

History is replete with instances of an “end” being falsely predicted. Where do present climate science-based projections and the probabilities of nuclear war lie?

  1. Clouded with a veneer of untruths propagated by mercenary ideological pseudo-scientific agents, the brutal fact remains that, to date, the emission of more than 600 billion tons of greenhouse gases, raising the atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than 40 percent, has shifted the state of the terrestrial atmosphere to that similar to the Miocene some 16 million years ago, at a rate faster than any recorded since 55 million years ago. Whereas species can adapt to gradual changes, runaway global warming within less than a century is triggering a mass extinction. As stated by David AttenboroughThe garden of Eden is no more”.
  2. Reinforcing the existential risk of climate disruption is the likelihood of a nuclear exchange. Lateral (spread across national borders) and vertical (technical or numerical advancement within a nation) nuclear proliferation is only growing. With a nuclear arsenal of 14,575 missiles and bombs, the possibility of a deliberate or accidental nuclear war becomes a probability, and, with time, a certainty. Sydney Drell, a physicist and nuclear weapons expert, commented on the proximity of a nuclear exchange in the following terms: “Given all the close calls and mistakes in the 71 years since then (Hiroshima), he considered it a miracle that no other cities have been destroyed by a nuclear weapon— “it is so far beyond my normal optimism”.

What are the origins of the imminent demise of much of nature, likely including a large part of the human race? Where does responsibility lie? Is it the unrelenting conflict between life-giving and life-destroying forces in nature, the megalomaniac nature of leaders, infinite greed, messianic zeal, murderous atrocities of colosseum games, obscene film and TV shows that are mirrored in the minds of growing generations?

At the roots of human pre-history are the tribe and the tribal leader, typically the stronger and braver hunter and warrior, capable of providing the tribe with food and protecting it from enemies. The leader, however, may not be the wisest person and is commonly prone to dragging the tribe into disaster, as have kings and emperors through the ages. Such leaders, however, do not arise in a void, but within circumstances which allow and enhance their rise to power.

Translated to the modern world, it is often the cunning, ruthless and corrupt types who reach the top. Now that humanity has mastered the technologies of combustion, manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum, production of a variety of poisons and splitting of the atom, the species needs to be absolutely wise and in control if it is to avoid self-destruction by its own inventions.

Andrew Glikson is an earth and paleo-climate scientist.

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