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Ticking Time Bomb

Can we turn back the doomsday clock?


"Sixteen years after the end of the Cold War...we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and unprecedented climate change", stated the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists earlier this year. The scientists urged immediate action to address climate change, resetting the Doomsday Clock at five minutes to midnight.

“Sixteen years after the end of the Cold War…we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and unprecedented climate change,” stated the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists earlier this year. The scientists urged immediate action to address climate change, resetting the Doomsday Clock at five minutes to midnight.

The last time the Bulletin positioned the clock this close to midnight was during the arms race of the 1980s, when US-Soviet relations reached their iciest point in decades.

It was also during the 1980s that individuals began to march in increasing numbers to end the arms race. For several years during this period, marches numbering nearly 100,000 citizens took place in cities across Canada. Inspired by the National Film Board of Canada documentary, If You Love This Planet, and Dr. Helen Caldicott’s passionate appeal to reject nuclear power, people not only in Canada but around the world responded by taking individual action.

Helen Caldicott inspired Donna Morton to get involved with Students Against Nuclear Extinction while she was still in high school. “I spent years protesting, involved in direct action, and fighting to make change,” says Morton. “But my life today is focused on harnessing that energy, and through policy moves and economic literacy, redirecting the force of the market itself so that it lines up with the best of human values.”

Today Morton is founder and executive director of the Centre for Integral Economics in Victoria, for whom she negotiates tax-shift policies with various levels of government. Tax-shift policies, designed to tax the bad to support the good, encourage individuals to reduce their environmental impact. During the late 1990s, for example, Morton convinced the BC government to tax wood waste that sawmills incinerated in beehive burners. Tax revenue would help sawmills develop cogeneration projects that use wasted energy for heating or for generating electricity.

Morton’s early peace activism has evolved into environmental activism that motivates because it hits the pocketbook.

Respected Canadian peace monger and author Joy Kogawa, who, like Morton, marched against nuclear arms in the mid 1980s, today motivates from the heart.

“I would like to think that individual action to end global warming–by living simply and consuming less–could make a serious difference,” says Kogawa. This time inspired by Al Gore and his Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Kogawa sees people today taking personal steps to reduce our misuse of the planet.

“The Titanic has hit the iceberg. Huge disasters of climate change have already arrived and more are inevitable,” says Kogawa. “Given this news, many of us on the deck of the Titanic continue to dance and feast our lives away while the waves quietly rise. Others are attempting to create life rafts, breaking the deck chairs apart with bare hands, looking for ropes to tie them together. Still others are looking about bewildered and in despair, neither waltzing nor working. It is these people not in denial that I wish to address.”

Kogawa believes that the difference we are each able to make begins with the tiniest decision. “It can be as life-changing as an effort to befriend an enemy or as small as choosing to waste less water in the bath, turning off the light, recycling more carefully, using no pesticides or bleach, travelling by public transit, using community currency, and living simply,” she says. “One small deliberate act empowers us and propels us to further steps.”

Morton concurs. “I believe that it will be the people, the largest ‘we’ in human history, that turns the tide on reducing the harms to the environment and the people who are forced to bear those harms,” she says.

The call to action that mobilized a mass call for nuclear disarmament during the 1980s is sounding again as the Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight. Steps taken individually or with others–as in the peace marches of the 1980s–are needed now to reduce carbon emissions, slow global warming, and turn back the Clock.

Doomsday Timeline

  •  1947 It is 7 minutes to midnight. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists publishes the
    Doomsday Clock for the first time to symbolize the urgency of nuclear danger.
  • 1963 It is 12 minutes to midnight. After a decade of almost nonstop nuclear tests, the US and Soviet Union agree to end all atmospheric nuclear testing; underground testing continues.
  • 1984 It is 3 minutes to midnight. US-Soviet relations chill as the US expands its
    space-based, antiballistic missile capability.
  • 1991 It is 17 minutes to midnight. With the Cold War officially over, the US and Russia begin making deep cuts to their nuclear arsenals.
  • 2007 It is 5 minutes to midnight. We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age,
    but climate change also challenges humanity with flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt causing loss of life and property.

Every Individual Action Counts

  •  Invest in biofuel and other alternative energies to reduce the need for new nuclear plants.
  • Talk to five friends about the hazards of nuclear power and put pressure on the energy sector to bypass nuclear power plants. Remember the worldwide effects of the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986?
  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels by buying locally. Joy Kogawa and friends use
    community currency called the Toronto Dollar, which is exchanged for Canadian currency at par and then buys goods and services at businesses in the neighbourhood of the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.
  • Lobby local government to develop an energy tax strategy that addresses climate change. “Maybe it’s time that people who are committed to climate change look at holding back taxes in protest the way war tax resisters have in the 1980s,” says Donna Morton.


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