The U.S. can prevent the Doomsday Clock from striking midnight.
Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Geoff Gratwick is a retired rheumatologist and past member of the state Senate from Bangor. Douglas Dransfield is a retired neonatologist from Portland. Both are members of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The fate of the Earth is in our hands. Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has asked us to imagine a Doomsday Clock counting down to midnight to illustrate the risk of annihilation facing our civilization and planet. For many years, the clock was set and reset by evacuating the risk posed by nuclear weapons, moving its hands closer to midnight with the growing number of nuclear-armed nations. Last year, the clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight, then the shortest time to midnight in 75 years.

Many countries, but primarily the United States and Russia, have had a role in determining the ticking of the Doomsday Clock. The U.S.’s nuclear deterrence policy is based on nuclear missiles on land and at sea ready to launch at the order of the president. A single Ohio-class submarine (and we have 14) has more destructive power than all the explosives used in World War II. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons is the most ominous threat to our planet since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963.

The Doomsday Clock was reset on Tuesday to 90 seconds to midnight. But today the challenges it records are not only the threat of nuclear war, but also climate change, artificial intelligence and more. We are experiencing extreme weather caused by the warming planet. Decisions produced by artificial intelligence affect our world and economy in ways not fully understood.

These risks are of our own making. Nuclear weapons, climate change and artificial intelligence are the results of human actions and choices. We can choose differently. How do we change the world to have more time? 

We believe we can change. Many nations are pledging to eliminate nuclear weapons. The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in force since Jan. 22, 2021, has been endorsed by 68 nations. Those signing the treaty have pledged not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, not to produce these weapons, or allow them to be based on their territory.

 

The U.S. has not yet signed this treaty. But many cities, towns, religious groups and other organizations throughout the country have endorsed “Back from the Brink,” a call to change U.S. nuclear policy. It calls on U.S. leadership to lead in the global effort to prevent nuclear war. The U.S. can take many steps to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons use by accident, mistake or miscalculation.

We must: Lead negotiations for a verifiable treaty, such as the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to eliminate nuclear weapons globally, renounce the right of first-use of nuclear weapons under all circumstances, end the sole authority of the U.S. president to launch a nuclear attack, take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert and cancel the current plan to replace the entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons.

Here in Maine, Portland, Bangor and Hallowell have passed resolutions calling for the federal government to sign on to these “Back from the Brink” policy solutions. At the same time, members of various religious, peace advocacy, and medical groups, including the Maine Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, have met with our federal representatives and senators asking them to support such changes. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District has co-sponsored a House resolution embracing these solutions.

We can and we must push back the Doomsday Clock. Change is possible. We should thank Pingree for her leadership and urge U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to follow her lead. We must keep the clock from striking midnight.