January 18, 2007

Five Minutes to Midnight

Could we be facing immanent nuclear warfare? Last week I mentioned that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a group that includes numerous Nobel winners, were to make a "very important announcement" and yesterday they did. The conclusion: that we have awoken to the dawn of a new nuclear era.

This seemingly dire announcement has been punctuated by the Bulletin's decision to move the Doomsday Clock forward by two minutes, to five minutes to midnight. Contrary to popular assumption, though, the clock is not a gauge of how close we are to nuclear war waged by our world's politicians.

In fact, the clock reflects “basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age, and will continue living, until society adjusts its basic attitudes and institutions.” This subtle difference is an important one, as it stresses the need for a fundamental shift in our way of approaching the way we live in the world. Is it not suprising, then, that the Bulletin also concludes that "the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons."

The full statement is well worth reading. Most fascinating to me is the report's description of how our nation's administration has relaxed its attitudes towards nuclear weapons, embracing this technology to a degree unheard of since WWII, and the direct influence this has had on today's nuclear proliferation.

But it's not all dire doomsday warnings. Even more important than the current "threat level," to borrow the language of the current administration, are the Bulletin's recommendations. Among the very specific steps that can be taken to reduce the nuclear threat are some obvious ones—begin dismantling the 20,000+ nuclear warheads we've got stored everywhere—and some less obvious ones. These include beginning an international discussion about the ramifications of nuclear energy (particularly salient as nuclear becomes more and more attractive as an alternative energy source), and securing current nuclear materials that are, as of now, dangerously insecure.

All of this nuclear talk can seem so distant to those of us who've never had to duck under a desk. But North Korea's recent testing should start bringing these dangers home to us—hopefully not directly, but at least by impacting our actions. So what can you and I do to influence our nation's approach to nuclear weapons?

We can start by educating ourselves (read the news, dispel the myths) and forming an opinion. Then share that opinion with those whose fingers dangle limply over the Big Red Button. Vote, send emails, start conversations with friends and neighbors. Whatever you choose to do, choose something, please. Don't you think it's time to stop letting others make our decisions for us?

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