Doomsday scientists: ‘We’re like travellers on the titanic’
Information warfare is amplifying major worldwide threats like climate change and nuclear warfare, endangering the future of civilisation, US experts said overnight as the symbolic Doomsday Clock stayed at two minutes to midnight.
The manipulation of facts, fake news and information overload — along with global warming and flirting with nuclear war — are all factors that have brought humans as close to destroying the planet as ever, said the non-profit Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
“Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention,” the group said in a statement.
“These major threats — nuclear weapons and climate change — were exacerbated this past year 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 civilisation in extraordinary danger.”
The so-called Doomsday Clock is a symbolic time piece created in 1947 as a way to highlight the threat of global nuclear war but has since grown to involve some of the world’s greatest minds — including 15 Nobel Laureates — who meet to examine the urgent challenges facing humanity.
Once or twice a year, the board gathers to discuss the state of the world and consider issues like climate change, biosecurity threats and even artificial intelligence.
The closer the time is to midnight, the closer we are to the proverbial doomsday scenario.
The clock did not budge from last year, but that “should not be taken as a sign of stability,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the group of scholars and international experts in security, nuclear, environmental and science fields.
“It is a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War,” said Ms Bronson at a press conference in the US capital, describing the current climate as “The New Abnormal.” “The velocity of information has increased by orders of magnitude, allowing information warfare and fake news to flourish,” she said.
“It generates rage and polarisation across the globe at a time when we need calm and unity to solve the globe’s greatest problems.” This “New Abnormal” is “a state that features an unpredictable and shifting landscape of simmering disputes that multiply the chances for major conflict to erupt,” she added.
“We appear to be normalising a very dangerous world in terms of the risks of nuclear warfare and climate change.”
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss is the former chairman of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors who preside over the Doomsday Clock — a role that once belonged to Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer.
“The purpose of the Doomsday Clock is to provide a graphical way for people to suddenly think about these existential threats,” Prof Krauss told news.com.au in 2017. “People tend to avoid thinking about these existential threats and don’t talk about them.”
The most optimistic the clock has ever been was 17 minutes to midnight, where it sat for four years from 1991 following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and the signing of the first strategic arms reduction treaty.
Conversely, the clock’s closet approach to the dreaded vertical axis was in 1953 after the United States and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of each other. At that time, the clock was placed at two minutes to midnight.
‘WE’RE LIKE TRAVELLERS ON THE TITANIC’
Jerry Brown, executive chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and former governor of California, said world leaders are not doing enough to scale back the threat of nuclear weapons.
“The blindness and stupidity of the politicians and their consultants is truly shocking in the face of nuclear catastrophe and danger,” Brown said.
“We are almost like travellers on the Titanic, not seeing the iceberg up ahead but enjoying the elegant dining and music.”
Brown also took issue with journalists who report on every word the US president utters on social media.
“Journalists, yes, you love Trump’s tweets. You love the news of the day. You love the leads that get the clicks but the final click could be a nuclear accident, or mistake, and that is what we all have to be worried about.”