Doomsday Clock still at 5 minutes to midnight

Last year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its famous "Doomsday Clock" -- which measures the likelihood of global catastrophe -- one minute closer to midnight, citing a lack of progress on nuclear disarmament and measures to address climate change.

Yesterday, the Bulletin again saw a year of stasis, but opted to keep the clock at five minutes to midnight. In an open letter to President Obama, the Bulletin's Science and Security Board writes

2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the US elections the focus was "the economy, stupid," with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population's well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world's energy sources. 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, marked by devastating drought and brutal storms. These extreme events are exactly what climate models predict for an atmosphere overburdened with greenhouse gases. 2012 was a year of unrealized opportunity to reduce nuclear stockpiles, to lower the immediacy of destruction from missiles on alert, and to control the spread of fissile materials and keep nuclear terrorism at bay. 2012 was a year in which -- one year after the partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station -- the Japanese nation continued to be at the earliest stages of what will be a costly and long recovery.

The stasis of 2012 convinces us, the Science and Security Board, to keep the hands of the Doomsday Clock in place.

The clock -- a staple of apocalyptic fiction, notably Allen Moore's Watchmen -- can seem a bit arbitrary at times. We're now closer to midnight than we were during many years at the height of the Cold War. (The clock got as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 after the U.S. began development of the hydrogen bomb.) But as board member Lawrence Krauss explains, the difference in the last few years has been BAS's decision to take issues like climate change into account in addition to nuclear weapons. The apocalypses that the clock is now anticipating are more of the whimper than the bang variety.


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Will Cuba let its dissidents travel?

There were long lines at Cuban passport agencies as citizens lined up to test the state's new loosened laws, which -- it is hoped -- will make it easier for Cubans to obtain passports to travel abroad, and allow some Cubans who have left the country to return. One big question is whether the rules will apply to Cuban dissidents. In November, blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote for FP:

In my case, the prohibition on leaving the island has come to feel like a life sentence. In just five years, the Cuban government has refused to grant my requests to travel outside the country 20 times. My drawers are full of letters of invitation, airline tickets expired for never having been used, and even photos of events and ceremonies held abroad where an empty chair sat in my place.

But she wasn't all that hopeful about the new laws:

The dissidents, activists, independent journalists, and bloggers, who were previously unable to travel, will very likely still not be able to do so next year. The crafters of the new law were careful to build in features the government can use to punish its political adversaries with imprisonment on the island. In articles 23 and 25 of the new decree, for instance, we learn that passports can be denied "when reasons of National Defense and Security require it," or "when for other reasons in the public interest as determined by the empowered authorities."

So we shouldn't hold out much hope that in the coming year the Ladies in White, Sakharov Prize Winner Guillermo Farinas, and other members of the opposition will finally be able to accept their international invitations.

I believe it's possible I may hold the sad record of being the person on this planet with the most unused travel visas. My passport is covered in stickers that say I am -- or was -- welcome in a dozen countries. I've left a lot of people waiting in airports.

Although the new law leaves the government the ability to continue to prevent me from accepting those international invitations, I want to believe there is hope. So, I have packed my suitcase, put in some clothes, a pair of shoes, and the image of the Virgin of Safe Journeys given to me by a friend several years ago. On Jan. 14, I will be in my local office to ask for my passport. An official dressed in olive green will tell me yes or no.

So how did it go? According to the Miami Herald, so far so good:

In a hint of the possibly profound impact of the changes, Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez and dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who together have been denied permission to travel abroad more than 24 times, said authorities told them they will be allowed to leave and return.

Read more here:

“I still don’t believe it,” Sánchez, who stood in line since late Sunday outside the passport office in her neighborhood, noted in a Tweet on Monday. An office employee told her she would get a new passport in 15 days, Sanchez added, because her current passport is too full of visas she was never allowed to use. “I swing between hope and skepticism.”

Read more here:

Other dissidents are hopeful as well,  including Fariñas and Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, who have not been able to travel to Europe to pick up the Sakharov Prizes for human rights that they have been awarded for their work. Stay tuned.