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Sight Magazine – Essay: How Long Until Midnight? The doomsday clock measures more than nuclear risk – and it’s about to be reset

In less than 24 hours, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will update the Apocalyptic clock. It is currently 100 seconds away from midnight – the metaphorical time when the human race could destroy the world with technologies of its own making.

The hands have never been so close to midnight. There is little hope that he will go back on what will be his 75th birthday.

Doomsday clock set at 100 seconds to midnight.

“While nuclear annihilation remains the most likely and acute existential threat to humanity, it is now just one of the potential catastrophes measured by the Doomsday Clock. Newsletter says: “The clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to disasters caused by nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other areas.”

The clock was originally designed as a way to draw attention to the nuclear conflagration. But the scientists who founded on Newsletter in 1945 were less focused on the initial use of “the bomb” than on the irrationality of weapons storage in the name of nuclear hegemony.

They realized that more bombs did not increase the chances of winning a war or getting anyone to safety when a single bomb would suffice. destroy new york.

While nuclear annihilation remains the most likely and acute existential threat to humanity, it is now just one of the potential catastrophes measured by the Doomsday Clock. As the Newsletter says: “The clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to disasters caused by nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other areas.”

Several connected threats
On a personal level, I feel a certain academic kinship with watchmakers. My mentors, especially Aaron Novick, and others who profoundly influenced my way of seeing my own scientific discipline and my approach to science, were among those who formed and joined the first Newsletter.

In 2022, their warning extends beyond weapons of mass destruction to include other technologies that concentrate potentially existential risks – including climate change and its root causes in overconsumption and extreme wealth.

Many of these threats are already well known. For example, commercial use of chemicals is ubiquitous, just like the toxic waste it creates. There are tens of thousands of large-scale waste sites in the United States alone, with 1,700 hazardous sites.superfund sitespriority for cleaning.

Like Hurricane Harvey shown when it hit the Houston area in 2017, these sites are extremely vulnerable. Approximately two million kilograms of airborne contaminants exceeding regulatory limits were released, 14 toxic waste sites were flooded or damaged, and dioxins were found in a major river at levels above 200 times higher than the maximum recommended concentrations.

It was just a big metropolitan area. With the increase in the severity of storms due to climate change, the risks to toxic waste sites grow.

At the same time, the Newsletter is increasingly interested in the development of artificial intelligence, autonomous armament, and mechanical and biological robotics.

Cinematic clichés about cyborgs and “killer robots” tend to mask the real risks. For example, gene drives are an early example of biological robotics already in development. Genome editing the tools are used to create gene drive systems that propagate through normal reproductive pathways, but are designed to destroy other genes or offspring of a particular sex.



Climate change and wealth
In addition to being an existential threat in itself, climate change is linked to the risks posed by these other technologies.

Both genetically modified viruses and gene drives, for example, are being developed to stop the spread of mosquito-borne infectious diseases, including widespread habitats on a warming planet.

However, once released, these biological “robots” can develop capacities beyond our ability to control them. Even a few mishaps that reduce biodiversity could cause social collapse and conflict.

Similarly, it is possible to imagine the effects of climate change causing concentrated chemical waste to escape from containment. Meanwhile, highly dispersed toxic chemicals can be concentrated by storms, picked up by floodwaters, and distributed in rivers and estuaries.

The result could be the plundering of agricultural lands and fresh water sources, the displacement of populations and the creation of “chemical refugees”.

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Clock Reset
Since the doomsday clock has been ticking for 75 years, along with myriad other environmental warnings from scientists at this time, what about humanity’s ability to imagine and fight for a different future?

Part of the problem is the role of science itself. While it helps us understand the risks of technological progress, it also drives this process in the first place. And scientists are people too – part of the same cultural and political processes that influence everyone.

J Robert Oppenheimer – the “father of the atomic bomb” – describe this vulnerability of scientists to manipulation, and to their own naivety, ambition and greed, in 1947: knowledge they cannot lose.”

If the bomb was how physicists came to know about sin, then perhaps those other existential threats that are the product of our addiction to technology and consumption are also how others know about it.

Ultimately, the interrelated nature of these threats is what the doomsday clock exists to remind us of.The conversation

Jack Heineman is a professor of molecular biology and genetics at University of Canterbury. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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