January 12, 2012 — On January 10, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands on its famous icon, the Doomsday Clock, from 6 minutes to 5 minutes before midnight, indicating that the world is in a worsening state of affairs from nuclear weapons and related dangers. We asked George A. Lopez, the Hesburgh Chair of Peace Studies and a former Chairman of the Bulletin’s Governing Board, about the meaning of this year’s lost minute.
What prompted the clock to move 1 minute closer to midnight?
A number of missed opportunities at the policy level have made the global condition more dangerous, as the Bulletin’s directors pointed out. Primary among these is the unwillingness of key nuclear states, notably Russia and the United States, to honor their pledges to reduce weapons stockpiles. The quest for nuclear weapons by Iran and North Korea also has heightened concern.
The clock change also reflects insecurities about the future of nuclear power raised by the disaster at Fukushima and the clear link between global climate change and the fate of the planet. Many scientists now speak of “climate disaster” or “climate emergency,” rather than “climate change.” The clock shows the price global citizens are paying for the denial of climate science findings and political inaction by leaders in the face of these threatening realities.
How does this correspond to the change you presided over a decade ago, when the clock moved from 9 to 7 minutes to midnight?
The movement at that time reflected intense fear about the spread of nuclear technologies and the substantial amount of unsecured and often unaccounted for weapons-grade nuclear materials moving worldwide. This was very much on our mind in the wake of September 11, 2001. But so too were decisions by the U.S. to reject pending arms-control treaties and to withdraw from obligations under the anti-ballistic missile treaty.
Now climate disaster and nuclear power have joined uncontrolled nuclear weapons as imminent threats to human existence.
What is the significance of the Doomsday Clock for peace studies?
The clock is meant to convey in one image the dangers of a nuclear world that need to be better understood by decision-makers and citizens alike. The Kroc Institute was founded 25 years ago with one of its themes being the creation of a new generation of peacebuilders who could help reverse the nuclear arms race and build peace between the then Soviet Union and the U.S. The challenge of moving toward a world with fewer nuclear weapons is still taken very seriously today in peace studies classes and in policy studies and action.
Professor Lopez's comments may be used in whole or in part. He can be reached at 574-631-6972 or email@example.com.