Countdown to doomsday

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Countdown to doomsday

Since 1992, the Asahi Glass Foundation has conducted annual surveys that aim to gauge the concern of experts worldwide over the continuation of the human race as the global environment continues to deteriorate. They then convert the responses into a time expressed by the hands of the Environmental Doomsday Clock. In the first year of the survey, the clock stood at 7:49 p.m., then ticked forward to 9:33 p.m. last year. The new time means that the world’s environmental situation is getting worse.

The most famous doomsday clock is the one developed for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947 by University of Chicago scientists. It uses the analogy of humankind essentially being just a few “minutes to midnight,” with midnight signifying “humanity’s catastrophic destruction.”

The clock is now set at five minutes to midnight. However, that’s a little better than when it was at 11:57 p.m. in 1984, when the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated.

We often encounter countdowns in our daily lives. A green triangle in a traffic signal blinks and then disappears, and the remaining cooking time is displayed on our microwave ovens.

The launch of a rocket is another prime example of a countdown. A huge number of people are held in suspense when they watch the dramatic scene of a rocket launch.

The countdown for the launch of Korea’s first space rocket, called Naro-1, began last Wednesday; however, it came to an abrupt halt only 7 minutes and 56 seconds before the scheduled blastoff. Many citizens who came out to watch the rocket launch with breathless interest felt that they were let down.

However, a delay is decidedly better than a failure to launch the rocket. This can prevent enormous economic damage and the degradation of the nation’s image overseas. Delay or failure of a rocket launch is a commonplace affair, even in countries that are highly advanced in space development.

Another countdown is still under way. The Web site of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat shows the hours, minutes and seconds remaining until the general assembly of the convention convenes on Dec. 7, 2009, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The conference will serve as a forum to decide the post-2013 targets for countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. Although silent, we should not belittle the influence of the “Countdown to Copenhagen,” because global warming will change the future of humanity and the destiny of the earth more powerfully than rockets or nuclear weapons.

It is our sincere hope that international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will make huge progress during the 108 remaining days.


The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo reporter who specializes in environmental issues.

By Kang Chan-soo [envirepo@joongang.co.kr]

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