100 seconds to Doomsday

What the countdown says about our future

On Jan. 23, 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences announced that they were setting their Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight due to increasing nuclear and environmental threats to the planet and its inhabitants. Originally established in 1947, the clock was previously set to seven minutes, with the times varying to reflect different points in history. Now we have 100 seconds. That’s it. 

While some see the metaphorical clock as a scare tactic with a political agenda, the Doomsday Clock reminds us not only of our responsibility to safeguard our planet and our civilizations, but also the relative space of time occupied by homo sapiens on Earth. The clock also reminds us that humans will not and cannot survive indefinitely. These facts are not new. Scientists, theologians, and many others have been finding signs of apocalypse, the destruction of the world, and the extinction of humans throughout documented history. The difference now is that these things are no longer in the distance and we are, in all probability, past the point of no return. Millions of  child activists can’t stop the inevitable. 

The ecological perspective 

From the environmental crisis perspective, we have already ravaged Earth beyond repair. Humans, in their relatively short existence, have decimated stores of resources that took eons to create. In doing so, we have broken the infrastructure of the earth’s crust and withered the protective ozone layer. Further, deforestation has not only made uncertain future levels of breathable oxygen and rearranged landscapes, but has extinguished every level of animal and plant life — the biodiversity of life that balances the well-being of the planet and us. Pollution accelerates this destruction exponentially. 

Corporate reluctance 

Then let us consider plastics. If we were to stop manufacturing all plastic products right now, we would still have enough plastic to choke the planet. When we create products that cannot be broken down and restructured into other necessary molecules, we prevent the repeated creation of Earth’s renewable resources. Further, the existence of plastics poses physical dangers to plants and animals exemplified by such horrific instances as animals being choked by plastic rings around their necks. But we can’t stop making plastics this minute. Sobeys might stop using plastic bags in their stores and British Columbia might ban plastic straws but these efforts, along with numerous other small-scale changes, are close to useless. They are merely mollifying. The people who are in power and who have capability of making globally impactful decisions are not interested in halting the production of plastics, not while they can continue to profit from it. 

This is the same problem with the dwindling drinkable water supply. Canada has some of the most drinkable water of any country in the world. And what do we do with it? We practically give it away to be bottled (in plastic) and commodified. Water should not be a commodity; clean water is necessary for life and all humans have the right to it but that does not make good economic sense. As we continue to pollute waterways and disrupt the water cycle, less drinkable water is available despite efforts to cleanse water. The pollution of water and the changes in ice and sea levels is not going to result in anything good for humans. Although some of these changes are normal in the life of Earth, the rate of change is going to cause catastrophe. 

The threat of war 

Then we have nuclear proliferation. Since the beginning of the atomic age, humans, being human, have threatened each other with weapons of mass destruction that will not only kill people, but will result in catastrophic obliteration of large areas of life and long-lasting lethal radiation. The particulate forced into the atmosphere, blocking the sun and resulting in that life-disabling period referred to as nuclear winter. 

I realize I sound like a preacher of doom. I realize that I sound like we might as well let the planet go to hell in a handbasket. What I am saying is that humans are merely a blip on the evolutionary timeline. As animals, we are less significant than the dinosaurs, the planets, the solar system, the universe. Our extinction is inevitable, and we are nearing our end. As the allegedly most-advanced animals to have existed on this planet we have been the most irresponsible and destructive. But while we are still here, we need to be better to the planet and each other.  

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously suggested that the Doomsday Clock had not been set at seven minutes since its inception up until this point. It has actually changed to various points since then, both closer to and further from midnight. The Dalhousie Gazette apologizes for the error.

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Shawna Guenther

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