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Kennette Benedict: “Existential threats, fast and slow”

UN_security_council_2005Kennette Benedict, Executive Director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has written an excellent piece explaining why the Bulletin decided to include climate change in their Doomsday Clock scenario, which until 2007 had focused solely on the threat of nuclear weapons.  Benedict states:

“the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists…created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 to graphically represent how close humans are to self-destruction, decided six years ago to include climate scientists in its deliberations on where to set the minute hand.”

Benedict notes that sometimes the Bulletin is called on to justify the decision to place the climate threat on equal footing with that of nuclear weapons. She gives three main reasons:

“Man-made problems. First of all, both threats are of humans’ own making.”

“Dangerous complacency. Second, neither nuclear weapons nor climate change are treated with appropriate sustained concern.”

“Acting together. Third, both of these threats to human society require a cooperative response by governments.”

The more we are able to see the similarity between the existential threats of today – in this case, the threat of nuclear weapons and climate change – the better we will be able to devote the necessary scale of resources commensurate to the enormous risks. Climate change is not a traditional environmental or “pollution” problem. It represents an existential threat to international security, and needs to be addressed as such.

Benedict’s entire article is worth a read.  We, along with our colleague Christine Parthemore, also penned an article comparing the security risks of climate change, weapons of mass destruction, systemic economic crisis, and international terrorism for the Bulletin several years ago, here. We hope to see more articles along these lines in the future.

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