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  • Patricia Wilcox

48. The Doomsday Clock Is Ticking LOUDER...


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 had recalled in a previous entry, yet I remember them as if they were yesterday. Ironically, l live close enough to a large concert venue to be able to hear at this very moment the strains of Yusuf/Cat Stephens, who is presently visiting the country and thrilling the air waves - and also my son in the crowd - as we all listen 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 it was mere idealism for, in my imagination, there I am still; flowers in my long hair, patchouli dabbed behind my ears, the smoky fragrance of joss sticks wafting through the air. I'm wearing a long muslin dress, a fringed top, with long beads and sandals on my feet. That was my '70's, in one great visual 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. 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 (a big call for lots of bold-case lettering in this post!).    

The first of these was the Women's March on Washington; the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. The march earlier this 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 Donald Trump, immediately following his inauguration as 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.    

Two years ago - Oct 6, 2017 - the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (the ICAN campaign) whose head chided Donald Trump for ramping up a nuclear standoff, observing that the US president has a track record of “not listening to expertise”. Speaking in the hours after the award, Beatrice Fihn, the group’s executive director, said Trump “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."