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Climate and nuclear crises raise fears of the end of the world

For thousands of years, many have predicted the end of the world. But with the dangers of nuclear war and climate change, does the planet need to at least start thinking about the darkest scenario?

At the beginning of 2022, many did not expect that the US President would address the danger of the end of the world during the year, in light of threats made by Russia to use nuclear weapons in its invasion of Ukraine.

In October, Biden said, “We haven’t faced the prospect of the end of the world since [the] Kennedy era and the Cuban missile crisis” in 1962.

In the year when the world’s population reached eight billion, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the planet was on the “highway to climate hell”.

In extreme phenomena widely attributed to climate change, flood waters submerged a third of Pakistan’s lands, and drought wiped out crops in the Horn of Africa, amid a global failure to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era.

In an annual report, the Global Challenges Foundation, a Swedish group that conducts catastrophic risk assessments, warns that the risk of nuclear weapons being used is the greatest since 1945, when the United States destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the only atomic strikes in history.

In its report, the Foundation warned that an all-out nuclear war, in addition to the human losses that would result from it, would release clouds of dust that block the sun, reduce the ability to grow food, and lead to “a period of chaos and violence, during which the majority of survivors will die of hunger.”

University of Chicago lecturer Kenneth Benedict, who led the team that prepared the nuclear section of the report, said that the risks are greater than they were during the Cuban missile crisis, as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisors seem less able to curb him.
While any Russian nuclear strike would likely involve small “tactical” weapons, experts fear a rapid escalation if the United States retaliates.

Benedict, a senior advisor to the Journal of Atomic Scientists, stressed that things would take a “completely different turn in this case.”

In January, the magazine will publish its latest assessment of the “end of the world hour” set since 2021 at a hundred seconds before midnight (midnight at this hour symbolizes the end of the world, while the hundred seconds symbolize the danger of the approaching end of the world).

In the midst of focusing on Ukraine, US intelligence believes that North Korea is ready to conduct a seventh nuclear test, and Biden has already announced the fading prospects for an agreement with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, amid tensions between India and Pakistan that still exist.

Benedict criticized the Biden administration’s review of its position on the nuclear file and its retention of the United States’ right to use nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances.”

“I think there is a kind of steady erosion in the ability to manage nuclear weapons,” she said.

Prior to the talks that took place in Egypt, United Nations experts considered that the world was heading towards a warming of between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius, but experts from outside the UN body warn that the number is much higher, with greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 recording a record. New despite efforts to switch to renewable energy sources.

And Luke Kemp, an expert on existential risks at the University of Cambridge, warned that the possibility of rising temperatures is not receiving due attention, blaming the principle of consensus in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientists’ fear of being labeled a worry.

Kemp stressed that a more in-depth assessment of “how risks are sequencing around the world” is needed.

Climate change would cause multiplying effects on food, with the decline of wheat and grain crops in several regions that were previously rich in them, which increases the risk of famine and thus political unrest and conflicts.

Kemp stressed that one should not extrapolate from one year or one event. However, a study he co-authored warned that a rise in Earth’s temperature, even by only two degrees Celsius, would expose the planet to risks not seen since the Ice Age.

The study, which is based on the hypothesis of increasing emissions and population growth at a rate ranging from medium to high, concluded that by 2070 two billion people may live in areas with an average temperature of 29 degrees Celsius, which will increase pressures on water resources, including between India and Pakistan.

But the year was not entirely bleak. While China will witness at the end of 2022 a surge in Covid-19 deaths, vaccines have helped many countries of the world turn the page on the virus, which, according to estimates issued by the World Health Organization in May, caused 14.9 million deaths in the years 2020 and 2021.
In a development that surprised observers, an agreement was reached at a conference on biodiversity, chaired by China and hosted by Montreal in December, to protect 30 percent of the world’s lands and seas.

The world has already witnessed warnings of a worst-case scenario, from Thomas Malthus’ prediction in the eighteenth century that food production will not keep pace with population growth, to the best-selling book “The Population Bomb” in the United States in 1968.

One of the most prominent current critics of pessimism is Harvard professor Steven Pinker, who stresses that violence has declined significantly in modern times.

In remarks made after the invasion of Ukraine, Pinker acknowledged that Putin had relaunched wars between states. But he stressed that the failure of the invasion could reinforce positive trends.

In a speech to Americans on the occasion of Christmas, Biden acknowledged that times are difficult, but he pointed to the decline in Covid and positive employment rates.



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