Doomsday Clock Moved Back a Minute: Timing Off?


Haiti neighborhood post-earthquake. Photo courtesy of UN Development Programme

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists gave us another minute, citing a more "hopeful state of world affairs" in relation to the threat of nuclear weapons. The "Turn Back the Clock" campaign also factors in climate change improvements. BAS moved the minute hand of its "Doomsday Clock" at New York Academy of Sciences Building last week, from five to six minutes - away from midnight. Last time it moved, in 2007, it went forward two minutes. So, this is good news, though in light of the crisis in Haiti, it seems out of sync. Are these scientists an optimistic bunch or is it really true?
"For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material. And for the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable," claims the BAS. Not everybody's read of COP15 is so positive.

Clock Announcement 2010 from TurnBackTheClock.org on Vimeo.

The decision to move the minute hand was made by the Bulletin's Boards of Directors and Sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel Laureates, including Stephen Schneider, professor of environmental biology and global change, Stanford University, and senior fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Developed in 1947, the clock symbolically conveys the apocalypse (midnight) and the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies. With dystopian films all the rage from 2012 to The Road, and The Book of Eli this weekend, not surprisingly Hollywood's taps into fears of a bleak future, replacing nuclear war with global warming. But what about natural disasters?


Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue conduct a rescue operation with USAID. Photo by Mass Comm. Specialist First Class Joshua Lee Kelsey c/o U.S. Navy

The apocalypse happened in Haiti last Tuesday as the Doomsday Clock moved back a minute. It wasn't a disaster caused by the extreme weather results of climate change (though its hurricanes are another story). As thousands of NGOs and government agencies descended on the island country with aid, there was a serious lack of effective coordination to get it to the victims after four days.

The devastating earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince seems a good test of global relief efforts. How can we mobilize better to help survivors when a disaster strikes a city that loses its infrastructure and kills significant members of an organizing team (the UN in this case)? With the long list of overwhelming obstacles (lack of communications, clogged airport, ruined port, blocked roads, fuel shortages) given as reasons it help didn't happen sooner, are we doomed to repeat the reaction to Hurricane Katrina?


Haiti fire department distributes water. Photo courtesy of UN Development Programme
Water, Food and Medical Supplies

What turned up the heat? Headlines reported: "Fears mounting that desperate quake survivors could turn to violence en masse." Looting motivated the acceleration of aid distribution? Seems the least of concerns--even a pasta factory owner told the media he didn't care if his place was emptied. Despite limited resources, valiant rescue efforts and generous assistance arrived but priorities seemed to get lost as it sat on the tarmac. "Water, food and medical supplies" was the mantra for days. Since water mains broke, the Red Cross fear that people will resort to drinking tainted water. At least all those plastic water bottles airlifted there will help--temporarily.

Hopefully the great outpouring of text donations, which make it so easy to contribute, will continue to rebuild the capital of Haiti along with plans to make the country self-sufficient. Some, like Tracy Kidder (author Mountains Beyond Mountains), suggest a significant agricultural economy and reforestation should be encouraged in the countryside, where many who escaped to the city are returning now. There's a great opportunity ahead to regreen Haiti--and turn the doomsday clock back.

"We need to get that process energized," said Navy Rear Adm. Ted N. Branch of the USS Carl Vinson. Aye Aye.

More on Haiti disaster relief:
Help For Haiti Earthquake Aftermath. Giving Green
After Haiti Earthquake Disaster Urgent Appeals For Aid Spread
The 3Rs for Haiti: Response, Recovery and Reconstruction
Solar Panels to Help Light Up the Night for Haiti Earthquake

Tags: Charities | Global Climate Change | Haiti | Natural Disasters

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