Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Five Minutes to Midnight

This morning, Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking moved the hands of the doomsday clock at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to five minutes to midnight -- one of the closest tick-ticks since the height of the H-bomb era. I'm of two minds on this move. One side of me says that the huge nuclear arsenals have been reduced since the Cold War, weapons have gone off alert, and global crisis seems less imminent than during most of the 20th century. But another side says that the social fabric of humanity is more frayed in this century than it has ever been. Nuclear weapons have proliferated to states and actors who are truly scary. Environmental conditions may have improved on some limited fronts, but global warming appears to have passed the tipping point already. Enlightenment principles have been tossed out the window in many cultures, and the Bush administration has erased the firebreak between nuclear and conventional weapons.
"The unthinkable seems more likely now than it ever has been," said Lawrence Krauss, professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve, speaking at the BAS conference. I'm afraid he's right.
We don't face the sheer terror of the two world wars or the Cold War of the 20th century. But things are falling apart, the center is not holding, and I'm afraid we're five minutes away from being toast, utter toast.

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