Capitol Alert

How close are we to Doomsday? Jerry Brown will soon tell us

After eight years as California’s governor, Jerry Brown has a new job: Tracking the apocalypse.

On Thursday, the former four-term governor will announce whether the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock — a measurement of humanity’s proximity to total annihilation — has moved.

Brown will do so in his capacity as executive chairman of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit organization founded by Manhattan Project scientists in the aftermath of nuclear proliferation.

In January 2018, the Bulletin changed the clock to two minutes to midnight; the last time it was that close was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.

The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock represents how close humanity is to an extinction-level event, whether by nuclear war, irreversible catastrophic climate change or other factors. The closer the hand is to midnight, the greater humanity’s peril.

Though it originally focused on tracking the threat of nuclear weapons, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in recent years has raised alarm over the danger posed by man-made climate change, a cause also championed by Brown.

Brown in his second run leading California signed laws that compel utilities to shift toward renewable energy, cultivated the state’s cap-and-trade program that aims to limit global warming emissions and sought out international partnerships to highlight the risk of man-made climate change.

“We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life,” he said at a November news conference. “We’re going to have to invest more and more in adaptation. It’s not millions. It’s billions and tens and probably hundreds of billions (of dollars).”

The Doomsday Clock has become an iconic part of American pop culture, with references across the media of music, television, movies and video games; one notable reference includes the 1984 Iron Maiden song “2 Minutes to Midnight.”

The decision on whether to move the minute hand “is made by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 14 Nobel Laureates,” according to a statement announcing the upcoming event.

The announcement will be made at 7 a.m. Pacific Time on Thursday in Washington, D.C. It can be viewed online at http://clock.thebulletin.org/.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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