By RAPHAEL G. SATTER, Associated Press Writer
The world is nudging closer to nuclear or environmental apocalypse, a
group of prominent scientists warned Wednesday as it pushed the hand
of its symbolic Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.
The clock, which was set two minutes forward to 11:55, represents the
likelihood of a global cataclysm. Its ticks have given the clock's
keepers a chance to speak out on the dangers they see threatening
It was the fourth time since the Soviet collapse in 1991 that the
clock ticked forward amid fears over what the scientists describe as
"a second nuclear age" prompted largely by standoffs with Iran and
North Korea. But urgent warnings of climate change also played a
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which sets the clock, was
founded in 1945 as a newsletter distributed among nuclear physicists
concerned about nuclear war, and midnight originally symbolized a
widespread nuclear conflict. The bulletin has grown into an
organization focused more generally on manmade threats to human
"The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed
by nuclear weapons," said Kennette Benedict, director of the bulletin.
Stephen W. Hawking, the renowned cosmologist and mathematician, told
The Associated Press that global warming has eclipsed other threats to
the planet, such as terrorism.
"Terror only kills hundreds or thousands of people," Hawking said.
"Global warming could kill millions. We should have a war on global
warming rather than the war on terror."
This is the first time the bulletin has explicitly addressed the threat
from climate change.
"We are transforming, even ravaging the entire biosphere. These
environmentally driven threats -- threats without enemies -- should loom
as large as did the East-West divide during the Cold War era," said
Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science.
"Unless they rise higher on international agendas, remedial action may
come too late," he added.
There is no actual Doomsday Clock in keeping with the bulletin's
symbolic exercise. But the group has used several makeshift clocks or
replicas over the years in logos, images and publications.
Since it was set to seven minutes to midnight in 1947, the Doomsday
Clock has been moved 18 times, including Wednesday's adjustment. It
came closest to midnight -- just two minutes away -- in 1953 after the
successful test of a hydrogen bomb by the United States. It has been
as far away as 17 minutes, set there in 1991 following the demise of
the Soviet Union.
The decision to move the clock is made by the bulletin's board,
composed of scientists and policy experts, in coordination with the
group's sponsors, who include Hawking and science fiction writer
Arthur C. Clarke.
Despite the organization's new focus on global warming, the prospect
of nuclear war remained its primary concern, the bulletin's editor,
Mark Strauss, told The AP.
"It's important to emphasize 50 of today's nuclear weapons could kill
200 million people," he said. That is a small portion of the weaponry
held by the United States.
The organization floated a variety of proposals to help control the
threat of nuclear prolifernation and repeated a call to nuclear nations
to whittle down their arsenals and reduce the launch readiness of
Panelist Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland, criticized the use of military means to deal
with nuclear proliferation and emphasized the use of diplomacy.
"If we want to address proliferation we want to do it in a unified
way, and not with the sole country acting pre-emptively," he said.
On the Net:
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: http://www.thebulletin.org/index.htm
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: But he is incorrect above when he
speaks about the War on Global Warming as being a 'war with no
enemies'. As Pogo Possum once said, "We have met the enemy and he
is us." PAT]