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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

It’s Not Five Minutes to Midnight

By: inoljt,

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a magazine dedicated towards ending nuclear weapons. It’s most famous for the “Doomsday Clock.” The magazine describes the Doomsday Clock as so:

The Doomsday Clock conveys how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction–the figurative midnight–and monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself. First and foremost, these include nuclear weapons…

In some ways the magazine is a lingering remnant of another time. The Doomsday Clock used to be much more well-known than it is now. Today most young people have never heard of it.

Currently the clock stands at 5 Minutes to Midnight. That is, the world is figuratively five minutes away from nuclear warfare and the end of the comfortable, mostly peaceful world we live in.

There’s just one problem: the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is wrong. It’s not five minutes to midnight.

More below.

Of course five minutes to midnight is a figurative term; the world will not literally end in five minutes as of this writing. It’s impossible to say just what “five minutes to midnight” actually means in real terms. How can I argue, then, that the scientists are wrong?

Because the world today is much safer than it ever was during the Cold War.

The Cold War was shaped by the threat that one misunderstanding, or the actions of one crazy general, would cause the world’s two superpowers to unleash their weapons. There was a constant threat that the Cold War would turn into a Hot War – a world war far worse than the last one.

There is no such threat today. People rarely use the term nuclear winter anymore, or at least they use it much less today. The nuclear threats today are merely local ones. Even if Iran or North Korea (or both) launch nuclear weapons, the devastation will merely be local rather than global. A Pakistani-Indian nuclear war would likewise be a local war, not a global one.

In 1963 and in 1972 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that the world was 12 Minutes to Midnight. The world is much farther away from nuclear catastrophe today than it was in 1963 or 1972.

So, at the very least, the world is 13 minutes away from midnight.