Doomsday Clock: three minutes of midnight

More than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists security board announced Jan. 29 that the probability of global catastrophe is very high, and set the hands of its iconic Doomsday Clock at three minutes to midnight—two minutes closer than in 2014. "Despite some modestly positive developments in the climate change arena, current efforts are entirely insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth," the statement read. "Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties." The BAS Timeline shows that the last time the clock stood at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, at the height of the Reagan arms race. The only previous time was in 1949, two years after the Clock was unveiled at seven to midnight in 1947. In 1953 it was moved to two minutes of midnight in response to development of the hydrogen bomb—the closest it has ever stood. The most relaxed positioning was 17 to midnight in 1991, after the Cold War ended. The clock was last moved—from six to five minutes of midnight—in 2012.

  1. Human extinction imminent: bigshot science dude

    Times of Israel reports June 20 that Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich is outing a new study finding that "we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event" in Earth's history—and humans are likely to be among the species lost. "We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on," Ehrlich said.

    “If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” added lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico.

    We have long cited evidence that the current radical die-back of global biodiversity is ultimately making the planet uninhabitable for humans. Alas, the account notes that Ehrlich is controversial for his rank Malthusianism that critically mis-identifies the problem as human numbers (itself a mere symptom) rather than capitalism.

  2. Human extinction imminent: another bigshot science dude

    TruthOut interviews Guy McPherson, a professor emeritus of evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, who cites various studies to the effect that "the planet has officially entered its sixth mass extinction event," and that "[h]umans will be extinct in 100 years because the planet will be uninhabitable."


  3. Forbes: capitalism leading to human extinction

    Well, isn't this cute. While the scientists who issue their cool and detached predictions of imminent human extinction refuse to acknowledge that capitalism is driving the collapse of the biosphere, that is left to self-proclaimed "capitalist tool" Forbes magazine! Their blogger Drew Hansen writes: "Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050." He chooses that date as the time that the planet's population is projected to hit 10 billion. But he is (refreshingly) not engaging in the usual Malthusianism. He acknowledges that the Earth's ability to feed the human race is being radically diminished by the loss of biodiversity, forests and soil fertility—and this, in turn, is being driven by Forbes' glorified economic model! "Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it's devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale," he writes.  

    Professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg published Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations last fall, arguing that businesses are locked in a cycle of exploiting the world’s resources in ever more creative ways.

    "Our book shows how large corporations are able to continue engaging in increasingly environmentally exploitative behaviour by obscuring the link between endless economic growth and worsening environmental destruction," they wrote.

    Among other studies cited. We've emphasized before that all the current economic growth is unsustainable and borrowed from the future. We welcome this breath of clear intellectual air from Hansen. We only take issue with the notion that capitalism can "change." This omnivorous system is predicated on devouring the entire planet. And he should recognize that the planet's booming population is also itself driven by the dynamics of capitalism…

  4. Media denialism on imminent apocalypse

    It's really amazing how nobody seems to grasp the cognitive dissonance of media-promoted predictions of imminent human extinction (see above) and glib pronouncements of the imminent eradication of global poverty. The UN sustainable development goals agreed to last September set the utterly hubristic aim to "end poverty in all its forms everywhere" by 2030. Now the UK's Overseas Development Institute (ODI) warns that African children will make up nearly half the world's poorest people by then if nothing is done to reverse existing trends. But even this is portrayed in relativistic terms. Writes The Guardian:

    In absolute terms, the number of African children living in poverty is predicted to drop steeply: in 2012, 216 million children were estimated to be living below the $1.90 (£1.44) a day World Bank threshold. The ODI predicts the number will fall to 148 million in 2030.

    However, because of other groups moving out of poverty faster, and because African women average more than four births each, their share in global poverty will double to 43%.

    'It's not that the number will grow," said Kevin Watkins, one of the report’s authors. "The point is that poverty is not coming down in Africa in comparison with elsewhere."

    Can ODI really accept that the supposed progress will continue for another 15 years, even if leaving Black Africa behind in relative terms? Really? With states collapsing from Nigeria to South Sudan to Syria to Yemen to Afghanistan? With the risk of devastating superpower confrontation greater every day? And even assuming that capitalist growth will happily continue ignores the reality that all its gains are merely borrowed from the future. We have no idea when Mother Nature will call in the debt. In fact, it has already started, as aquifers and arable land dminish around the globe. (And please spare us the lectures about anthropomorphism, it's just a metaphor.)

    Science website EurekAlert meanwhile touts a new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) finding that: "The global impact of human activities on the natural environment is extensive, but those impacts are expanding at a slower rate than the rate of economic and population growth… The study finds that while the global population grew 23 percent and the global economy grew 153 percent between 1993 and 2009, the global human footprint grew only 9 percent." There are all the caveats about how the impacts are still "frighteningly extensive." But we aren't told how the improbable 9% figure was arrived at, or what explains the discrepancy—much less given any hope that the "human" (we prefer to say capitalist) "footprint" can be reduced to sustainable levels.

  5. Human extinction imminent: another bigshot science dude

    Dr. Mayer Hillman, the influential social scientist known for producing research that has successfully led to policy changes to improve road safety, has declared humanity "doomed" due to its reliance on the burning of fossil fuels and the capitalist economic system that ensures that dependence will continue. From The Guardian:

    Our society's failure to comprehend the true cost of cars has informed Hillman’s view on the difficulty of combatting climate change. But he insists that I must not present his thinking on climate change as "an opinion". The data is clear; the climate is warming exponentially. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the world on its current course will warm by 3C by 2100. Recent revised climate modelling suggested a best estimate of 2.8C but scientists struggle to predict the full impact of the feedbacks from future events such as methane being released by the melting of the permafrost.

    Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100. "This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to climate change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical."