Just a week after scientists reported that 2014 was the hottest year on earth since systematic records began to be kept 130 years ago, the Doomsday Clock, symbolic of how close the planet may be coming to catastrophe, moved ahead two minutes, to three minutes to midnight on Thursday, Jan. 22.
The clock, designed by University of Chicago scientists in 1945 and maintained since 1947 by the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, had been positioned at five minutes to midnight, where it had been since 2012.
Both the widely recognized potential for global climate change disasters and the continuing threat posed by nuclear weapons caused the symbolic clock to be advanced. It has not registered this close to midnight since 1984, during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Its closest position to midnight was registered in 1953 after the testing of the hydrogen bomb.
With the announced move of the clock’s hands, the Bulletin published a statement warning: “In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity.”
“It is now three minutes to midnight,” Kennette Benedict, the executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said at a news conference in Washington. “Stunning government failures have imperiled civilizations on a global scale,” she added. “World leaders have failed to act on a scale or at a speed to protect humanity from catastrophe.”
In another, unrelated development this week, a leader in environmental activism and leading analyst of threats to the earth — and how people in numerous countries are acting to mitigate them, Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., announced that he would be closing the organization in June.
Brown was also a founder of Worldwatch Institute and an earlier administrator of the US Agriculture Department’s International Agricultural Development Service, managing technical assistance programs in 42 developing countries. At the Earth Policy Institute, which he founded in 2001, Brown published 13 books, with the 14th, “The Great Transition: Shifting From Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy,” to be released this spring.
The institute’s staff also produced hundreds of “Plan B” Updates, Eco-Economy Indicators, Data Highlights, Fact Sheets and Book Bytes. His work was featured in the 2011 PBS documentary, “Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.”
Brown, who is 80 years old, said in a statement that he planned to continue researching and writing on environmental policy. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, of which he is a graduate, will be establishing a Lester R. Brown Reading Room with a collection of his books in English and many foreign-language translations. Rutgers will also take over the hosting of Earth Policy Institute’s website and maintain it as an archive.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.