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  • Patricia Wilcox

31. The Doomsday Clock strikes a new abnormal.

Updated: Jun 9


I am in shock. I can hardly believe I am writing a headline like this. It’s 4 decades since those heady days of the ‘70’s that I recalled in a previous blog entry, yet I am remembering them as if they were yesterday.


l live close to a large concert venue from where the whole neighbouhood is at this very moment hearing the strains of Yusuf/Cat Stephens who is visiting the country. My son is also somewhere in that crowd. We are all listening in rapt attention to the anthem that is “Peace Train”.


For me the ideals of those days were more than just wishful thinking; in that decade my life changed forever, in a way that resonates still. I refuse to accept that those peace dreams were mere idealism. In my imagination there I am today with flowers in my long hair, patchouli dabbed gererously behind my ears, and the smoky fragrance of joss sticks wafting through the air. I'm wearing a long muslin dress, a fringed top, leather sandals on my feet and long beads that sway with my movement.


That was my '70's in one great visual, musical and fragrant feast. But times have moved on... Today I have good news and bad news. I’m giving you the good news first. As a long-time feminist and 'peacenik', I am thrilled to report on two major events which took place in our world in the course of this year (2019 as I write). Thrilled that they happened, certainly not thrilled by how under-reported they seemed to be here in N.Z. - an omission that seems particularly remiss, given that we led the world in achieving votes for women.

The first of these was the Women's March on Washington; the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. The march, earlier in the year on January 21, was organised to send a bold message to the new administration on their first day in office, and to the world, that “women’s rights are human rights". It rapidly became a worldwide protest with participation estimated at over five million.

The purpose was to advocate legislation and policies on a diverse range of human rights and other issues, including women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the natural environment, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers' rights.

Most of the rallies were aimed at the newly inaugurated President of the United States, largely due to statements that he had made and positions that he had taken which were regarded by many as anti-women or otherwise offensive. (Refer to my previous post on the ‘Me Too’ hashtag movement). Marches were worldwide, on all seven continents. In Washington D.C. alone, the march was the largest single political demonstration since the anti-Vietnam war protests.

On Oct 6, 2017 - the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (the ICAN campaign) whose head chided the US president for ramping up a nuclear standoff, observing that he had a track record of “not listening to expertise”. Speaking in the hours after the award, Beatrice Fihn, the group’s executive director, said he “puts a spotlight” on the dangers of nuclear weapons.

“The election of President Donald Trump has made a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with the fact that he alone can authorise the use of nuclear weapons,” she told reporters in Geneva, adding that “there are no right hands for nuclear weapons”, and that the prize was a tribute to all anti-nuclear campaigners. It sent a message to all nuclear-armed states that “we can’t threaten to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of security”.

The chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said the award had been made in recognition of Ican’s work “to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

It underlines the mounting danger of nuclear conflict between the US and North Korea and the increasing vulnerability of the Iran nuclear deal. It is a reprimand to the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers – the US, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – all of whom boycotted negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons that was approved by 122 non-nuclear nations at the UN in July.

The Nobel committee said “the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time” and there was “a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea”. It said the peace prize was also a call to nuclear-armed states “to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world”.

Meantime, for those of you who follow the Doomsday Clock, courtesy of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it is now two and a half minutes to midnight. For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. However, in its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned:

“The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.
In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, and global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way."

Update: To Leaders and citizens of the world

Re:

Post Script;

Date: January 24, 2019

Statement from the President and CEO

As the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board prepared for its first set of Doomsday Clock discussions this fall, it began referring to the current world security situation as a “new abnormal.” This new abnormal is a pernicious and dangerous departure from the time when the United States sought a leadership role in designing and supporting global agreements that advanced a safer and healthier planet. The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time.


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