TUMBY BAY - This week the Doomsday Clock moved its hands to 100 seconds to midnight.
The Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe.
It has been maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
These keepers of the clock are eminent individuals and include a dozen or so Nobel Prize winners.
The clock represents symbolically how far the world is from extinction and 100 seconds to midnight is the closest it has ever been in its 73-year history.
The decision to advance the clock by 20 seconds was based on two premises. The first is that civilisation-ending nuclear war is a possibility and the second is that forecasts about climate change devastating the planet are emerging in reality.
The scientists who keep the clock said that avoiding these potential disasters is compromised by the threat multiplier of “cyber-enabled information warfare that undercuts society's ability to respond."
People have been making dire predictions about the fate of the planet and humanity since time began. In all cases the end of the world has failed to materialise.
But now we find that forecasts about climate change may have been understated and the outcomes of a planet under stress are already with us.
So how should we regard this latest dire warning from the atomic scientists?
Should we file it alongside biblical references to the Apocalypse and Armageddon, or in the fat folder containing the multiple predictions of Nostradamus?
Or should we take it more seriously?
Most beliefs about the Apocalypse are pieced together from different texts in the Bible. In religious terms, it includes events like the Rapture, the great Tribulation and, finally, the battle of Armageddon.
Nostradamus is believed to have predicted the outbreak of World War III, which we haven’t had yet. Although some pundits, observing developments in the Middle East and the stand-off between the USA and Iran, think it could finally happen this year.
Of course such prognostications depend heavily on the qualifications, character, calibre and motivations of the people making them.
Some forecasts are presented in the gloomiest way possible to shock people into action.
Biblical predictions and those made by people like Nostradamus should be categorised in the sinister world of the magico-religious, but this doesn’t stop people bending over backwards to relate these sorts of prediction to modern historical events.
Nostradamus is supposed to have predicted the rise of Adolf Hitler and, more recently, that of Donald Trump.
(How anyone could have predicted the rise of Trump is mind boggling. His election even caught the Republican’s strongest optimists by surprise.)
In this year’s prediction, the keepers of the Doomsday Clock have been joined by former Irish president Mary Robinson, who now leads a group of former world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela and ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban Ki-moon says with concern that the world’s “mechanisms for collaboration are being undermined when we need them most".
He cites the US withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and ongoing divisions in the UN Security Council.
Mary Robinson says that “we now face a true emergency — an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay."
Eminent people and experts have got it wrong in the past. Remember the kerfuffle about the Y2K millennium bug that was supposed to crash the world’s computers at the beginning of the year 2000.
Thankfully it didn’t happen, but perhaps that was because the experts said it might which got the technocrats and fixers off their tails.
But doubts about the efficacy of predictions as well as sheer scientific ignorance are what seem to be driving the climate change deniers.
Some of our world leaders seem happy to believe in biblical prophecies but are unprepared to believe in scientific projections.
I’m betting that next year the Doomsday Clock will tick another twenty, or even more, seconds towards midnight.