CAPTAIN Boyle, Sean O’Casey’s character in his play Juno and the Paycock, was fond of proclaiming: “The whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis.”
The world to which he referred stretched no farther than the tenements of Dublin during the Civil War, but they might just as easily apply to the state of the wider world today.
Our planet and its inhabitants face existential threats on two fronts: Global warming and global warmongering.
The first — a proven reality – is trenchantly denied by US president Donald Trump, who has described it as an “expensive hoax” and has tweeted climate change skepticism more than 100 times. Of greater concern, however, is his decision to put that skepticism into practice.
Stephen Hawking says Mr Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement could lead to irreversible climate change.
“We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible,” he said. “Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulphuric acid.”
The world’s most famous scientist since Einstein is rarely given to hyperbole, so we ignore his warnings at our peril.
The second threat is more immediate but no less grave. The test-launch by North Korea of an intercontinental missile capable of reaching the US is a game-changer that cannot be ignored.
The sight of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un punching the air during the launch surrounded by delirious generals may appear hilariously Pythonesque but it nonetheless represents a deadly serious threat to us all.
It is little wonder, therefore, that atomic scientists have moved their Doomsday Clock forward to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. This is a metaphorical instrument devised in 1947 to convey the urgency of nuclear danger. It now takes into account other global threats, like climate change.
The closest the clock has ever come to midnight (two minutes) was in July 1953, when the Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more powerful than an atomic bomb and one which the US had tested in late 1952.
The combination of Kim Jong Un’s apparent insanity and Mr Trump’s inconsistency has moved it forward again. It had been at three minutes to midnight for the past two years.
Mr Trump has few options in dealing with North Korea, none of them good.
An American first strike would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in human history, while targeting Kim Jong Un would be a suicide mission for those actively involved. Continuing Barack Obama’s failed policy of ‘strategic patience’ is hardly an option either.
It may be that Mr Trump will come to accept two uncomfortable truths to prevent the Doomsday Clock moving even closer to midnight. The first is the reality of climate change. The second is the reality that North Korea is a nuclear power with the ability to strike the US.
The prospect, though, is that: “It ain’t gonna happen.”
No wonder the worl’ is in a state o’ chassis.
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