FAR graver than any of the hardships foisted by economic problems, the risks of a nuclear war together with climate change still stand as the two most serious threats the world faces today. These risks are part of the top 10 most serious threats that the World Economic Forum (WEF) said would be confronting the world in the next 10 years.
In this connection, a group of prominent scientists and Nobel laureates met last Thursday to determine the latest position of the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic face of a clock used to indicate the proximity of a global catastrophe from happening. The clock’s nearness to 12 midnight represents the closeness of such catastrophic danger from happening. The clock is as well moved back or closer to midnight according to the “basic changes on the level of the continuous danger” threatening the world. The Doomsday Clock has been the cover of the “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,” the publication of the group (now strictly published in digital form).
The concept of the Doomsday Clock is the result of the work initiated by a “group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists.” This group of researchers is part of the “Manhattan Project,” which was attributed to have produced the first atomic bombs in the last world war. As such, the Doomsday Clock originally represented how close the world was from the threat of a global nuclear disaster.
Since 2007, however, the application of the Doomsday Clock was expanded to include “climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies and cybertechnology,” all of which were described as threats that could “inflict irrevocable harm, whether by intention, miscalculation or by accident, to our way of life and to the planet.”
The group behind the Doomsday Clock meets twice a year to discuss “the state of world affairs and threats to humanity” in a one-day symposium. The clock’s hands were “initially set to seven minutes to midnight; and since its inception in 1947, it has been adjusted 20 times.” The latest adjustment was on Jan. 22. The clock was advanced to “3 minutes to midnight.”
The latest adjustment was made for the following reasons: “Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernization and outsized nuclear arsenal.” Failure in political leadership among world leaders—“to act with the speed or the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe—was cited as the primary cause for the present dangers.”
As a result of the past nuclear arms race, too, there are about 144 sites around the world where materials used to construct nuclear bombs can be found. This makes at least one country in every continent—save Antarctica—with civilian enriched uranium, according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials. It is feared that because of the presence of many bomb materials in so many places, this increases the chances of terrorist groups to get hold of enough highly enriched uranium or plutonium to use in a bomb.
Aside from North Korea and Iran, there are about 20 to 30 more countries estimated to possess the capabilities to either create a nuclear weapon or civilian nuclear power. This is aggravated by the program of the United States and Russia to further embark on a “massive modernization of their nuclear triads,” which is observed to be actually “undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties.”
It is also seen that global warming of “2-10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years is a distinct possibility,” if fossil-fuel technologies are not curbed of their carbon dioxide emissions. This could cause a “3- to 34-inch rise in sea level, leading to more coastal erosion, increased flooding during storms and, in some regions, such as the Indus River Delta in Bangladesh and the Mississippi River Delta in the US, permanent inundation.”
The symposium ended recognizing the strong initiatives of some influential individuals and institutions but concluded that only government actions could enforce the solutions to stave off nuclear wars and disasters from climate change. Foremost among several recommendations, political leaderships should focus on the pursuit of peace and world understanding, and governments to initiate “changes in energy use and human settlement.”
Bottom line spin
In the outlook for 2015 which I wrote about before Christmas, I said that one thing was sure to happen: The year will be full of surprises. And this will be stirred by the combined effect of both old and new geopolitical, religious and economic risks factors. These risk factors can be sparked by the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East as well as by unfolding armed outbreaks in North Africa. Likewise, the risk of an international conflict can also start in Southeast Asia or North Korea.
With how the world market drove up oil counters last Friday, however, is one glimmer of hope. Falling oil prices could not be a “wild card” to world instability. The new face in Saudi’s leadership seemed to have precipitated the fancied impression that while oil prices may no longer go back to the US$100-a-barrel level, it might bounce back somewhere within mutually beneficial price ranges. The World Bank also estimates that at such price ranges, it may boost growth by 15-20 percent more to many countries in 2015.
This makes geopolitical instability and extreme environmental risks—possibly from the newly added threats from “climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies and/or cybertechnology”—the main wild cards that may pull some negative surprises to countries with otherwise positive outlook like ours and the US.