In a speech anchoring The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Sixth Annual Clock Symposium, California Governor Jerry Brown outlined his state’s leadership in combating climate change and drew clear parallels between the climate crisis and the nuclear arms race. He also demonstrated how humor and a light touch can help address what he called “the problem of big problems.” “If you scare people, or if you sound catastrophic, you’re a kook,” Brown explained. ”But if you don’t wake everybody up, we’re doomed.”
Founded 70 years ago by Manhattan Project physicists with close ties to the University of Chicago, the Bulletin was originally focused on raising awareness about the existential threats of nuclear weapons and related technologies. Over time, it has expanded its scope to include climate change, biosecurity, emerging technologies, and more.
At this year’s Clock Symposium, a series of public discussions held November 16 in the University’s new William Eckhardt Research Center, the Bulletin celebrated its rich legacy and charted a course for the future. Experts in science and security gathered at the daylong event to discuss climate change, nuclear security, and disarmament, among other urgent topics.
After a welcome from Bulletin Executive Director and Publisher Rachel Bronson, Harris School of Public Policy Dean Daniel Diermeier gave the opening remarks, in which he honored the Bulletin for its vision and commitment to evidence-based policy. “Since 2010, the Bulletin has made its home at the Harris School, and it has been a great partnership,” Diermeier said. “We have been very pleased to have the Bulletin be a part of Harris these past five years, and we look forward to a fruitful ongoing collaboration.”
Diermeier concluded his remarks by introducing The Honorable Gareth Evans, chancellor of Australian National University and a former minister of foreign affairs in Australia, who delivered a keynote address in which he warned against the “casual re-embracing” of a Cold War mentality among the nuclear superpowers.
The first of two panel discussions, moderated by Global Philanthropy Partnership President Adele Simmons, focused on the highly anticipated United Nations Climate Change Conference, which took place in Paris November 30–December 11. Tempered by a palpable sense of urgency, the panelists expressed what Richard Somerville, a climate scientist at the University of California, San Diego, described as “guarded optimism” about the meeting and the ways in which it differed from past efforts in Copenhagen and Kyoto. Peter Ogden, a senior advisor and fellow at the Harris-affiliated Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, explained that a major difference is the presence of “intended nationally determined contributions,” pledges to cut greenhouse gases that countries made public in October. Describing the INDCs as “expressions of national interest,” Ogden pointed out that they have already led to greater engagement in the negotiations.
“One of the challenges with the Kyoto Protocol negotiations was that you had negotiators go to Kyoto, set targets, and come back and try to explain to countries why it was a good idea,” Ogden said. The new process, he added, “was developed in countries, and deeply considers politics and many different implications and factors.”