The hands of doom tick closer to midnight, friends, but that looming specter is no longer a mushroom cloud. Surely you know by now that the mother of the 21st century apocalypse is climate change. Our warming world beckons drought, plague, famine, all the respectable winds of the end times. But our world leaders can't shake the nuclear gloom—the prospect of Iran getting the bomb usher's situation rooms around the globe into a frenzy, while climate change inspires little more than arthritic finger twiddling.
I have this on no less an authority than the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the planet's most esteemed nuclear doomsayers. Writing at the Bulletin, Dawn Stover admits that "For existential threats, nothing beats a nuclear bomb with a short fuse." But we've been obsessed with that fuse for too long, and we're missing the bigger picture: "the handwringing over Iranian nukes seems disingenuous coming from world leaders who have had so little to say in recent months about another hot-button international issue: the looming catastrophe of global warming."
She's primarily referring, of course, to Mr. Obama and Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, who, before the U.N. security council and all the world, drew a ridiculous cartoon bomb to highlight the "red line" that Iran cannot be allowed to cross in its enrichment process, urging the international community to strike. Meanwhile, both men have at best paid lip service to the climate problem.
Now, the folks who take Netanyahu most seriously—conservative hawks with itchy trigger fingers and the politico-media complex that loves them—are ever-eager to fan the flames on the nuclear Iran saga. But they barely make a peep about global warming.
"The very people most inclined to believe that Iran nearly has the bomb—despite a dearth of proof—seem most disinclined to accept the scientific evidence calling for a red line on climate change," Baker writes. Funny, that: All the rush to scare the public of death-by-falling-bombs resides un-ironically with a complete and utter denial of a scientifically verified existential threat.
For instance, Mitt Romney entertained paranoid delusions of a nuclear Iran and publicly threatened a "credible nuclear option," to keep that nuke from getting built. Yet he all but denied the existence of climate change and had no policy platform to speak of by way of addressing it. The same is true of the Republican National Convention's official charter, and the GOP's stance in general.
This is mostly because the prospect of a nuke-toting Iran is a useful political football, no doubt; a means of lionizing Israel and the American military and manufacturing a villainous threat over which the forces of good and America might emerge victorious over. It also ratchets up support for Israel and DoD spending. Climate change, meanwhile promises no clear and easy political benefits. "In 100 years, when the world isn't a festering swamp sauna, the people of Earth will thank you!" isn't exactly a sterling motivating factor for the quid-pro-quo trench veterans of Congress.
And climate change is so much more abstract—that "short fuse" the Bulletin noted is a lot scarier on a visceral level than the gradual heating of our environs. It's better understood, we've got a more intuitive grasp on the imagery, we've all seen Terminator 2.
Now, the Bulletin's lament also highlights another folly of the nuclear "debate": Those issues may earn more bluster in the press, but we're not making any more progress on disarmament than we are on global warming. Despite signs of initial progress in meetings between Obama and then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, little has come to fruition. The world is still overloaded with nukes; the U.S. still has thousands, Russia still has thousands. So does India, Pakistan, and, almost certainly, Israel. The U.S. alone is locked into keeping its nuclear arsenal for at least another decade, and probably beyond.
So we're failing to mitigate the nuclear threat nearly as woefully as we're failing to address the climate one. No wonder the hands of doom are officially at five minutes to midnight.