Jerry Brown may be out of elected office, but he has no intention of exiting public life.
On Thursday he launched the newest phase of his career in signature style – standing before a giant clock in Washington to warn that the world lies dangerously close to catastrophe.
The former California governor renewed his crusade for nuclear disarmament and climate action at an event hosted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which unveiled the latest setting of its iconic Doomsday Clock, the hands of which sit at two minutes to midnight, a warning that the world is as close to nuclear Armageddon and climate disaster as it has ever been.
The event provided a reminder that much of the work Brown and his allies have done over decades of fighting climate change and pursuing nuclear disarmament has been undermined or reversed by the Trump administration.
It was also a springboard for Brown, now the executive chairman of the Bulletin, to jump into a new phase of advocacy, attacking the administration’s denial of climate change, which has helped keep emissions creeping upward, and its erratic policies toward nuclear arms – including disavowing the Iran nuclear deal – which have led to deep worries about proliferation.
“The blindness and stupidity of the politicians and their consultants is truly shocking in the face of nuclear catastrophe,” Brown said. “We know that thousands of these weapons on high alert could be launched by mistake…. We are almost like travelers on the Titanic, seeing the iceberg up ahead but enjoying the elegant dining and the music.”
“The danger and probability is mounting that there will be some kind of nuclear incident that will kill millions, if not initiating exchanges that will kill billions,” he declared.
Last year, the Bulletin set its 72-year-old clock at 11:58, and this year kept that gloomy judgment in place. The lack of movement was a warning from the scientists and policymakers on the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board that the outlook for human civilization remains precarious. The last time the clock was this close to doomsday was in 1953, when the United States and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons.
“It’s a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War, a state that features a constantly shifting landscape of simmering disputes that keep the world unsettled and multiply the chances that major military conflict will erupt,” said former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. Since serving in the Clinton administration, Perry has been outspoken in warning of the increased danger that rogue nations or terrorist groups could get ahold of a nuclear device and detonate it in the United States.
The Bulletin warned the planet has entered a period of prolonged instability it calls the “new abnormal,” where the caustic political environment, acceleration of disinformation and cyber-warfare and lack of attention to the climate and nuclear proliferation crises have put civilization on an unsustainable path.
Brown said he planned to spend his next years traveling the nation and the world in a campaign to change course. He placed blame across party lines, calling out Democrats for their hostility to dialogue with Russia.
“Yes, the Russians have plenty of faults and sins, but we, too, have to look ourselves in the mirror, and we are not perfect,” he said. “Let’s talk to [Vladimir] Putin. Let’s talk to anybody else who can do the kind of damage you are hearing about from this panel of nuclear scientists.”
And Brown had a message for the media too, which he says too often focuses on petty Washington drama and the political horse race over the increasing dangers of nuclear annihilation and environmental collapse.
“You love Trump’s tweets,” he said. “You love the leads and to get the clicks. But the final click could be a nuclear accident or mistake.”