Scott Brinton

Can we rewind time for the sake of humanity?


The strangest clock in the world isn’t a clock. Rather, it’s a simple drawing of one, composed solely of black lines and dots against a white background. The hour hand is pointed straight up, in the 12 o’clock position, and the minute hand is only seconds away from meeting it at midnight.
If the two hands merge as one, the world ends in a “civilization-ending apocalypse.” As I write this, the clock is at 1 minute, 40 seconds to midnight.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, started by Albert Einstein and the University of Chicago scientists who helped build the first atomic bomb during World War II, came up with the Doomsday Clock as an urgent warning to humanity that we must reverse course and move away from nuclear proliferation before we blow ourselves to smithereens, taking the rest of life on Earth with us.
The clock is reassessed and reset each January. It marked its 75th anniversary on Jan. 20. With only 100 seconds to midnight, we have never been closer to annihilation than we are now — not even during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, according to the distinguished panel of scientists, which includes 11 Nobel Prize laureates, who have recalibrated the clock this year.
The Doomsday Clock has become something of a cultural icon, referenced in novels by Stephen King and Piers Anthony, songs by the Who and the Clash, and comics such as “Watchmen” and “Stormwatch.” It should not be taken lightly, however, and it certainly shouldn’t be seen as the fictional imaginings of mad scientists. It is intended to give us a realistic assessment of our chances of survival as a species.

What the clock tells us — screams at us, really — is that we must get it together before it’s too late. We must unite behind a common mission of saving ourselves from extinction. That means dispensing with wild conspiracy theories, ancient superstitions and internecine feuds and seeking science-based solutions to some of the most urgent questions and problems that our species faces, including the continuing nuclear arms race, the climate crisis and out-of-control viral invaders, a.k.a. Covid-19 and all of its many variants.
Here’s what the scientists wrote in the news release announcing this year’s Doomsday Clock: “U.S. relations with Russia and China remain tense, with all three countries engaged in an array of nuclear modernization and expansion efforts — including China’s apparent large-scale program to increase its deployment of silo-based long-range nuclear missiles; the push by Russia, China and the United States to develop hypersonic missiles; and the continued testing of anti-satellite weapons by many nations. If not restrained, these efforts could mark the start of a dangerous new nuclear arms race.”
Yes, while the coronavirus pandemic has been roiling the world, the planet’s three nuclear superpowers have been steadily ratcheting up their arsenals with new, ever more deadly technologies. The military industrial complex lives, even as people around the globe are falling ill and dying of disease by the millions.
You would have thought a global pandemic would bring people together behind a common cause — survival. Instead, we are more divided than ever, and rich nations continue to play a dangerous game of geopolitics. Witness what’s happening in Ukraine these days, with Russia amassing tens of thousands of troops and armaments on the Eastern European nation’s borders, appearing ready to invade for no good reason other than, it seems, Russian President Vladimir Putin wanting to assert his power and regain a modicum of the glory his nation lost with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Interestingly, 1991 was the year that we were furthest from annihilation over the past three-quarters of a century, when the Doomsday Clock was at 17 minutes from midnight after President George H.W. Bush and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to significantly reduce the number of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in their stockpiles.
As I write this, 8,500 American troops are reportedly headed to Eastern Europe, possibly to Bulgaria, where I served in the Peace Corps, Romania, Hungary and Poland, presumably as a signal to these NATO allies that the U.S. has their back. Ukraine is not a NATO member, so the U.S. is not obligated by treaty to defend its borders if it is attacked.
I find it mind-boggling that Putin would bring Europe to the brink of yet another war at any time, let alone amid a worldwide pandemic. His posturing is the very definition of craven.
In the U.S., we really must work to eradicate the coronavirus so we can move on to the other pressing issues of survival. We have all the tools that we need to beat Covid-19 except the political will. The clock, though, continues to tick. Now, not later, is the time to put aside our differences for the sake of humanity — for the survival of our species.
Science tells us so.

Scott Brinton is the Herald Community Newspapers’ executive editor and an adjunct professor at the Hofstra University Herbert School of Communication. Comments about this column?