Climate change stands alongside the use of nuclear weapons as one of the greatest threats posed to the future of the world, the Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking has said.
Professor Hawking said that we stand on the precipice of a second nuclear
age and a period of exceptional climate change, both of which could destroy
the planet as we know it.
He was speaking at the Royal Society in London yesterday at a conference
organised by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists which has decided to move the
minute hand of its "Doomsday Clock" forward to five minutes to
midnight to reflect the increased dangers faced by the world.
Scientists devised the clock in 1947 as a way of expressing to the public
the risk of nuclear conflagration following the use of the atomic weapons
that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War.
"As we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and a period of
unprecedented climate change, scientists have a special responsibility, once
again, to inform the public and to advise leaders about the perils that
humanity faces," Professor Hawking said. "As scientists, we
understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and
we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate
systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth.
"As citizens of the world, we have a duty to share that knowledge. We
have a duty, as well, to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we
live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and
societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to
prevent further climate change.
"We are here today to outline the results of the Bulletin's recent
deliberations and to warn the public about the deteriorating state of world
and planetary affairs by moving the hand of the clock," Professor
"Lord Rees of Ludlow, president of the Royal Society, said humankind's
collective impacts on the biosphere, climate and oceans were unprecedented.
These environmentally-driven threats 'threats without enemies' should
loom as large in the political perspective as did the East-West political
divide during the Cold War era.
Technology in the 21st century could offer immense opportunities to everyone
but it would also present new threats that were more diverse and more
intractable than those posed by nuclear weapons, Lord Rees said.
"To confront these threats successfully and to avoid foreclosing
humanity's long-term potential scientists need to channel their efforts
wisely and engage with the political process nationally and internationally.
"We shall need, in all fields of science, individuals with the wisdom
and commitment of the atomic scientists who founded the Bulletin," he
The board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said the
threat of nuclear apocalypse was now almost matched by the environmental
threats posed by climate change.
"We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age. Not since the first
atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such
perilous choices," the board said in a statement issued yesterday.
"North Korea's recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran's nuclear
ambitions, a renewed US emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons,
the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials and the continued
presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are
symptomatic of a larger failure to solve the problems posed by the most
destructive technology on Earth.
"As in past deliberations, we have examined other human-made threats to
civilisation. We have concluded the dangers posed by climate change are
nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less
dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by
nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change
could cause drastic harm."
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited