Doomsday Clock Ticks Closer as Nuclear-Armed Israel’s Conflict in Gaza Heightens Global Concerns

On Tuesday, the experts overseeing the “Doomsday Clock” opted to maintain its precarious position, emphasizing the escalating nuclear concerns stemming from Russia’s actions during the Ukraine invasion, the nuclear tensions in Israel amid the Gaza conflict, and the escalating impact of climate change. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, echoing last year’s decision, set the clock at 90 seconds to midnight, symbolizing the brink of potential global catastrophe. The scientists base their decision on evaluating existential threats to the planet and its inhabitants, encompassing nuclear dangers, climate change, and the rapid development of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

Rachel Bronson, the president and CEO of the Bulletin, highlighted the persisting risks, stating, “Conflict zones worldwide pose a looming nuclear threat, climate change is already claiming lives and causing devastation, and the rapid progress of disruptive technologies like AI and biotech outpaces the implementation of protective measures.” She clarified that maintaining the clock’s position is not an affirmation of global stability but an acknowledgment of the ongoing challenges facing humanity.

Established in 1947 by a Chicago-based nonprofit, the Doomsday Clock serves as a symbolic indicator, cautioning the public about the proximity of humanity to potential global destruction.

The significant and ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, approaching its second anniversary next month, has heightened tensions with Western nations to levels unseen since the Cold War era.

She pointed to a significant event in February 2023 when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to suspend Russia’s involvement in the New START treaty with the United States. This treaty had imposed limits on the strategic nuclear arsenals of both nations. It’s noteworthy that the United States and Russia collectively possess nearly 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, a capacity sufficient to cause widespread destruction multiple times over.

Furthermore, Bronson pointed to Putin’s announcement in March 2023 regarding Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. She also highlighted the Russian parliament’s decision in October 2023 to pass a law retracting the ratification of the global treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons tests. Adding to the concerns, Russian analyst Sergei Karaganov expressed the notion last year that the use of nuclear strikes in Europe would be necessary to intimidate and “sober up” Moscow’s adversaries.

Is Israel’s conflict with Hamas a factor in the discussion?

In October 2023, Israel found itself in a conflict with Hamas when the Palestinian group, based in Gaza, initiated attacks in southern Israel, resulting in approximately 1,200 reported casualties according to Israeli counts. In response, Israeli military strikes, as reported by Gaza health authorities, led to the deaths of over 25,000 people.

Rachel Bronson emphasized the significance of Israel’s actions in the context of the Doomsday Clock discussion, given its status as a nuclear state. The concern revolves around the potential for the conflict to escalate regionally, triggering a more extensive conventional war and involving additional nuclear or near-nuclear powers.

Initially focused on nuclear weapons, the Doomsday Clock’s considerations expanded to include climate change in 2007. Bronson highlighted the unprecedented challenges faced in 2023, marked by record-breaking global temperatures and rising greenhouse gas emissions. Both global and North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures set records, and Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest daily extent since satellite data became available.

Despite 2023 being a record-breaking year for clean energy with $1.7 trillion in new investments, Bronson noted the counterbalancing effect of fossil fuel investments nearing $1 trillion.

Bronson concluded that while the investments in clean energy were promising, current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are significantly insufficient to prevent the dangerous human and economic impacts of climate change, disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest populations.

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