Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tick, Tick, Tick

Remember the Doomsday clock? I do. When I was a kid, it was the stuff of nightmares for me. In my mind, it was a great big thing in a room full of scientists busily working day and night, looking up anxiously at regular intervals to see the hands moving steadily toward midnight. That was the big fear: midnight meant it was over. We were over. Civilization was finished. As a child of the sixties, the Cold War kept things pretty stressful, but the clock was actually set back in those days. When it was first put into operation back in 1947, the Atomic Scientists who made up this odd chronometer set it at seven minutes til midnight. Two years later, it moved closer when the Soviet Union (the bad guys in "Red Dawn") tested their first nuclear weapon. It got still closer when America (the good guys in "Red Dawn") decided to go ahead and build a hydrogen bomb.
And so it went. Back a few ticks. Forward a couple more. In 1991, when the Cold War was over and we had to start blaming those "breakaway republics" for the bad things that happened in the world, the Doomsday Clock was moved back to seventeen minutes to midnight. Russia began to dismantle their nuclear arsenal, and flowers began to grow in what used to be missile silos. Peace in our time. The sun shone down on us all and we sang "Kumbaya." Seventeen minutes? We were all going to live forever.
India and Pakistan started to blow up atoms in 1998, and suddenly we were back inside of ten minutes. Cue ominous music. Those flowers in the missile silo began to wilt. By 2002, we had a bigger concern than angry countries with nuclear weapons: radical factions within those angry countries with their own nuclear weapons. North Korea bumps it up still further with all their stiff-legged marching about and their willingness to blow things up underground. This was a dangerous place.
In 2010, Moscow and the United States started making noises like maybe they would just give up this whole mutually assured destruction business. That didn't last long. Two years later, tensions grew and these "Atomic Scientists" decided to extend their influence by adding in the specter of global warming. For some, this counts as science. Now, in 2015, the Doomsday Clock is as close to the end as it has been since it was set in motion nearly seventy years ago. "The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization." That's what the scientists say. The science fiction writer says: “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” Now if we could only close that wisdom gap. 

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