Editor’s Note: Dr. Lynn Ringenberg is president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She is emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of South Florida in Tampa and a retired Army colonel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Doomsday Clock has moved two minutes closer to midnight
Nuclear arsenal, climate change make world more dangerous, says Lynn Ringenberg
In a dramatic warning to the world, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Thursday that the iconic Doomsday Clock has ticked forward by two minutes. This new setting of three minutes to midnight indicates “the probability of global catastrophe is very high,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin, which was founded by former Manhattan Project physicists after the atomic bombing of Japan.
The Doomsday Clock is a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and other emerging global threats.
Although it may be easier to think “out of sight, out of mind,” the Bulletin has been alerting us since 1947 that nuclear weapons remain a grave threat to the survival of humanity. The original setting was seven minutes to midnight, and now we’ve allowed our world to drift to a setting of three minutes to midnight, not seen since 1984 during one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War.
There are still 16,300 nuclear weapons in the world, many on high alert, able to be launched in less than 15 minutes.
There can be no meaningful medical or humanitarian response to a nuclear attack, whether it is planned or accidental. Cheating scandals, low morale and security lapses that put us all at risk have plagued America’s nuclear military forces.
According to Eric Schlosser, author of “Command and Control,” there were more than 1,000 mishaps involving our nuclear arsenal from 1950-1968.
And who knows what hair-raising incidents have happened involving foreign arsenals? Our nuclear security ought not to depend on good luck continuing indefinitely.
The setting of the Doomsday Clock also addresses the vast scale of the danger. Recent research published by Physicians for Social Responsibility indicates that even a “limited, regional” nuclear war, say between India and Pakistan, would have profound health impacts on all of us. If 100 Hiroshima-size weapons were used in such a war, the climatic effects would have a devastating impact on world agriculture and put 2 billion people at risk of starving.
It has become self-evident that these weapons have no military utility and are too dangerous to keep around.
We can change this. Recently, a dynamic worldwide movement of people and governments has shown a renewed interest in nuclear disarmament. In October, 155 of the world’s governments, representing 79% of the nations of the world, supported a U.N. resolution calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
In a powerful personal message last month to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, Pope Francis declared that “nuclear weapons are a global problem, affecting all nations, and impacting future generations and the planet that is our home. A global ethic is needed if we are to reduce the nuclear threat and work towards nuclear disarmament.”
He went on to say, “I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity planted deep in the human heart will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home.”
President Barack Obama promised to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons, but his administration must not have gotten the memo.
The current plan involves spending $355 billion over the next 10 years to maintain and modernize our nuclear arsenal, and $1 trillion over the next 30 years. This is an absurd waste of taxpayers’ dollars on weapons that must never be used. The time has come for the United States – in words and deeds – to support the global elimination of nuclear weapons.
The resetting of the clock was also influenced by the report that last year was the warmest ever recorded on Earth. This underscores scientific warnings that the relentless warming of our planet poses profound long-term risks to civilization and to the natural world.
Unless we change our behavior, worsening climate change will continue to negatively affect public health, from heat-related disorders, worsening respiratory problems such as allergies and asthma, more infectious diseases, crop failure from drought or flooding with resulting malnutrition, to mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Our political leaders have a moral obligation to our children, grandchildren and future generations to leave them a planet free of nuclear weapons and a planet that is not damaged beyond repair by the ravages of climate change.