Doomsday clock moved up

Board members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists met recently to make a prediction. Their subject? The end of the world.

The board — comprised of renowned physicists, environmental scientists and experts of national and global security — meets twice a year to determine how near we are as a human species to destroying ourselves, a factor they communicate through the Doomsday Clock. The clock reads like a countdown: the closer the clock is to midnight, the closer we are to the end of society as we know it. And right now, the clock stands at two minutes and thirty seconds to midnight.

Though the name itself connotes borderline sensationalism, the Doomsday Clock is an internationally-recognized design calculated and discussed by a highly-accomplished team of scientists, the words of which have been taken seriously since the clock’s inception in 1947.

Originally, the clock primarily conveyed the risk of a nuclear apocalypse. Today, the clock has grown to include other factors threatening the end of our species, namely advancements in weaponry, cyber technology and climate change. Since 1947, the clock’s display has varied from two minutes in 1953 with the development of the hydrogen bomb to seventeen minutes during a period of post-Cold War peace.

Yet the clock’s most recent tick — from three minutes to two and a half minutes from midnight — was not prompted by a startling advancement in science per se, but a shift in rhetoric. In an op-ed for the New York Times, two of the board’s scientists, climate scientist David Titley and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, expounded on President Trump’s current trajectory pertaining to nuclear developments and deregulation of fossil fuel pursuits.

“Never before has the bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter,” they wrote.

The time change made last Thursday might be startling, but the board hopes that the countdown stands as a reminder of our unity as a species and a need to protect us from ourselves.

In an interview after the announcement, the executive director and publisher of the bulletin, Rachel Bronson, stated that “rather than [creating] panic, we’re hoping that this drives action.”

For some, the thought of an impending apocalypse provokes a sense of survivalism — underground bunkers, space travel and excessive canned beans. A recent New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich)  elaborates on how some of the richest in our society have already been preparing for this sort of scenario, generating complications with survival and class status, a future where only the rich might survive.

However, for some communities that are already self-sustaining and relatively off-the-grid, the solution to global turmoil lies not in stockpiling food and weapons but in practicing sustainable farming and forestry. By maintaining their forests and farming all they need to eat, Karen communities in Northern Thailand are prepared for whatever changes may happen to the global economy.

“When all our global relations go berserk, the Karen are going to be fine,” said Jeffrey Rutherford, agriculture professor at the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute. “They’ve been farming in the forest for hundreds of years, and their jungles still have plenty of wildlife and trees.”

With midnight approaching, maybe it’s time to consider this question: bunker or jungle?