“The sky will fall on our heads! already worried the Gauls, at least those of the Asterix albums. More than 2,000 years later, the end of the world is really near. Based on the climatic, military and health context, scientists from the Council for Science and Security of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, including ten Nobel Prize winners, decided to advance the time to the symbolic clock of the “apocalypse”. It is now minus 90 seconds.
In other words, humanity has never been this close to planetary catastrophe. But what do these experts rely on? What is an alarm for? Isn’t it too worrying? Contacted by 20 Minutes, Laurent Testot, science journalist and co-author of Vortex, Facing the Anthropocene (with Nathanaël Wallenhorst on the Payot editions), attempts to answer these questions.
What data do scientists from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists rely on?
You just have to watch the evening news on TV or open 20minutes.fr to realize it. The threats to our environment and world stability are becoming ever more important and urgent. The experts came to this alarming result mainly because of current events. “Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons are a reminder to the world that an escalation of the conflict – accidental, intentional or accidental – poses a terrible risk,” the group said when unveiling the new timetable.
But not only the war in Ukraine is shaking humanity. The scientists also considered “the ongoing threats posed by the climate crisis” as well as the fact that “devastating events like the Covid-19 pandemic can no longer be viewed as rare events, occurring only once every hundred years. If this clock does not 20 Minutes Laurent Testot specifies “the concern of a team of experts who base their arguments on summaries of scientific studies,” says Laurent Testot by nuclear weapons, “there is little talk about military nuclear power yet, but when global warming is combined with other threats, we are actually getting closer to the apocalypse”.
What is the doomsday clock for?
It is a cry of alarm, a way of reacting “to make people aware of the imminent danger”, interprets Laurent Testot. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and scientists working on the Manhattan Project to make the first atomic bomb. Originally, after World War II, the clock showed midnight minus 7 minutes. By 1991, at the end of the Cold War, it had dropped to 17 minutes to midnight. The clock thus gives an indication of the mess that humanity is currently in. “It’s a metaphor for the risks humanity is taking and it reminds us that we are not escaping the nuclear threat while the climate threat is getting worse,” concludes Laurent Testot.
To try to defuse the bombshell that awaits us, citizens, leaders and business corporations must be concerned with the urgency of the situation. “It is the trio of public opinion/political power/economic power that can make the world aware of this common interest in human survival,” explains Laurent Testot.
Isn’t there a danger of spreading too much fear?
The end of the world, or at least society as we know it today, is not reassuring. Nevertheless, it seems necessary to ring the alarm bell on issues such as nuclear armament or the climate – as IPCC experts regularly do. “During the Cold War it is not certain that the balance of terror worked. It is possible that it was fortunate that the nuclear catastrophe was avoided,” recalls Laurent Testot. Especially since, according to the science journalist, “wars are becoming more and more tactical and the risk of using them [l’arme nucléaire] like any other weapon exists”.
And if this issue is indeed very troubling, “it’s not that it’s not being considered. These are political questions that we have to decide together,” he emphasizes. And to add: “Without necessarily being aware of it, we certainly live better, but we are less and less master of our destiny. Additionally, fear can be an engine of change, allowing for a commitment to militancy. “Either we give it up, or we find out more,” summarizes Laurent Testot.