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. The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats and lulling citizens around the world into a dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis.
As you will see in the pages that follow, this year’s Doomsday Clock statement draws attention to the devolving state of nuclear and climate security. It also points to a qualitative change in information warfare and a steady misrepresentation of fact that is undermining confidence in political structures and scientific inquiry. At the same time, science is racing forward, and new global governance structures are desperately needed to manage rapidly evolving and potentially dangerous technologies.
In 2017, the Bulletin moved the time of the Doomsday Clock a half-minute closer to midnight, in part because of reckless approaches toward nuclear weapons and a growing disregard for the expertise needed to address today’s biggest challenges, most importantly climate change. We argued that world leaders not only failed to deal adequately with nuclear and climate threats, they increased them “through a variety of provocative statements and actions, including careless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the wanton defiance of scientific truths.” Two years later, it has become even clearer that “the intentional corruption of the information ecosystem” threatens to undermine the rational discourse needed to address such challenges. The 2019 statement therefore goes on to provide a framework for how citizens can begin to organize themselves and respond.
I am grateful to the Science and Security Board for cogently addressing the challenges we faceand developing a call for action. The Bulletin’s editor- in-chief John Mecklin helped blend differences in viewpoints and multiple voices into a unified statement—no easy feat. Our new executive chair, Jerry Brown, and Board of Sponsors chair Bill Perry not only offered their views but were invaluable in producing an animated and productive set of conversations ahead of this year’s Clock decision. I thank the Bulletin’s Governing Board for its support and guidance during the report process and throughout the year.
The Bulletin could not do all it does without major supporters, including the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Holthues Trust, the Ploughshares Fund, the Sisyphus Supporting Foundation, and the many other foundations and major donors who help the Bulletin ensure that advances in science and technology make life on Earth better, not worse. Most gratifying is the support offered by individuals around the world, often in small but steady amounts.Their support suggests that the ingredients exist to create a global grassroots coalition committed to advancing a more peaceful future, one based on scientific inquiry, rational debate, and fewer nuclear weapons.
Everyone has a role to play in advancing this vision, and there is much work to be done. We hope you will join us and, in so doing, help #rewindthedoomsdayclock.
Rachel Bronson, PhD