“We are faced by a gathering storm of existential level consequences and time is running out. We need bold, ethical leadership and frankly, we are not seeing it.” Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former President of the Republic of Ireland
Mary Robinson made these comments at the unveiling, on January 24th, of the 2023 “Doomsday Clock” by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The clock was moved forward 10 seconds to now sit at 90 seconds to the metaphorical midnight of nuclear and ecological doomsday. This is the closest the clock has ever been to midnight in its 65 year history. It reflects the growing consensus among scientists and retired politicians that time is running out for humanity to prevent global catastrophe.
And the twin existential threats to humanity are both of our own making: nuclear weapons and climate change. The increasing possibility of nuclear war is due only to our unwillingness to eliminate the most dangerous weapons ever invented before they are used again, whether on purpose or by accident. And the increasing possibility of climate catastrophe is due only to our unwillingness to stop burning fossil fuels in the face of overwhelming evidence that failure to do so will lead to rising sea levels and uncontrollable weather conditions.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists were very clear that the ongoing war in Ukraine makes both these existential threats more likely. The war has set back what little progress was being made on addressing global carbon emissions and has unleashed a whole raft of new drilling for gas and oil. It has even spurred the re-opening of previously shut coal-fired power plants, making 2022 the worst year on record for carbon emissions.
The war in Ukraine has also, of course, put the actual use of nuclear weapons back on the table. President Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine with the implicit threat that he would use nuclear weapons against any country that tried to interfere with his invasion. He has since then made reference to the possible use of “tactical” nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The US has responded with thinly veiled threats of their own, by referring to “catastrophic consequences” of any Russian use of nuclear weapons.
This is not the kind of “bold, ethical leadership” that is needed in the face of existential threats to humanity. We need to call on President Biden and others in leadership positions to show true leadership and statesmanship by sitting down at the table and resolving the conflict in Ukraine for a start. There is too much at stake to playing dangerous games with each other. It’s time to get a grip and start addressing the real problems we face as a global community.