Editor’s Notebook: Postcards and dispatches as the clock ticks
The view from Carter Hill Orchard in Concord on Wednesday morning. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
The Doomsday Clock is now set at 90 seconds until midnight, and I’m running out of room for the shoveled snow. Problems come in all sizes.
According to the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the clock has never been so close to “global catastrophe.” Climate change, biological threats, and disruptive technologies (“from disinformation to drones”) have all played a role in moving the big hand, but it’s the war in Ukraine, and the inherent nuclear threat, that ticks the loudest this year.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the risk of nuclear weapons use, raised the specter of biological and chemical weapons use, hamstrung the world’s response to climate change, and hampered international efforts to deal with other global concerns,” reads the 2023 Doomsday Clock Statement, which was released on Tuesday.
There is no safe harbor in the headlines, even thousands of miles away from Ukraine. Mass shootings in places with Hallmark movie names like Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay send ripples of terror and mourning. Another fatal police beating, this time in Memphis, and the echoing, dying question sounds like Kafka: “What did I do?” Not even sports can serve as a distraction. At one point this week, three of ESPN’s top six stories were about professional male athletes accused of domestic violence.
All of this, and meanwhile New Hampshire looks like a postcard. Two weeks ago there were patches of green grass everywhere, as if the thaw of a nonexistent winter had begun. Now I expect to see Pieter Bruegel’s “Hunters in the Snow” around every bend. I keep clearing the driveway, and the banks are closing in. And I’m bone-tired, and it’s beautiful, and I want the snow to keep falling until it builds a silence that birds alone can break.
There is no separating hell from heaven.
Anthony Doerr’s “Cloud Cuckoo Land” begins in the future with Konstance, a child aboard an interstellar ship “shaped like a disk” fleeing a destroyed Earth for a habitable planet 4.2399 light-years away. Later, we learn that there are no windows or stairs on The Argos, and of the 86 people who live there, 60 were born on board. On her 10th birthday, Konstance celebrates her Library Day, which means she is given access to the entirety of human knowledge in virtual reality form. And it is on that day that she learns the journey from Earth to “Beta Orph2” will take 592 years and that she is a human bridge – “the intermediaries, the ones who do the work so that our descendants will be ready.”
The Argos is purgatory at 7,734,958 kilometers per hour.
We are “the intermediaries” too, whether we like it or not. We are not the generation that will see Earth’s natural world restored to its pre-industrial glory. We will not know a planet free of war and violence. We will not be the society that eradicates racism, sexism, and poverty.
We are “the ones who do the work,” who embrace the struggle to move the big hand backward, one second at a time, because that is our lot.
That, and a little bit of shoveling.
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