By Jamshid Damooei
The Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the likelihood of man-made global catastrophe. It was created and maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit organization concerning science and global security issues resulting from accelerating technological advances that have negative consequences for humanity.
Our world’s vulnerability to catastrophe stems from proliferation of nuclear weapons, worsening of climate change and disruptive technologies in other domains. On Jan. 27, 2021, the clock remained at 100 seconds before midnight, as it was in 2020. This level is the closest to midnight since 1947.
In 1991, with end of the Cold War, the clock was set at 17 minutes before midnight. This indicated the highest hope of humanity in working toward peace. This hope lasted only four years.
The onslaught of death and economic destruction of low-income countries from COVID-19, the end of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia, the increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran, along with the continued neglect of climate change, has brought the clock closer to midnight.
The escalation of conflict with China and the rising threat of nuclear war from North Korea present a bleak future. Twenty years of war in Afghanistan — at a cost of more than $2.3 trillion and more than 200,000 deaths, and continued hardship for our veterans and their families — ending with the Taliban once again in charge, is a good example of our misguided foreign policy.
Thought-provoking research released Sept. 1 by scholars at Brown University put the “costs of the 20-year war on terror” at around $8 trillion and 900,000 deaths. These scholars take a much broader view in estimating the costs than individual reports from official sources.
Pandemics and infectious diseases have brought fundamental changes throughout history, as they exposed the dysfunctionality of systems and presented an unacceptable face of the existing systems in serving the needs of people. It is amazing that while rapidly advancing biological research and development have produced and will continue to produce remedies for the emerging problems, our governments and giant profit-making transnational corporations are incapable of accepting that the world is biologically an interrelated entity and virus does not recognize geographic boundaries. On Oct. 15, the World Trade Organization announced that its member nations had again failed to agree to suspend intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, despite of billions of dollars that the companies made and will continue to make.
COVID-19 vaccination rates are on average 30 times higher in rich countries than in poor countries. The WHO has tried to persuade rich countries to give $4.3 billion immediately and $28 billion over the next year to adequately fund vaccines, medicines and tests through its massive ACT (Access to COVID-19 Tools) Accelerator Initiative. It is shocking how rich nations fail to observe the realities of our world and how hundreds of millions of us blindly follow them.
On the other hand, loss of world GDP over the recent past and in the years ahead is alarming. Early estimates predicted world GDP of around $87.55 trillion in 2019. COVID-19 brought a 4.5% drop in economic growth, resulting in almost $3.94 trillion of lost economic output.
Based on World Bank estimates in 2021, advanced countries will still be suffering a 2.5% drop compared with 2019. The decline for the world as a whole is about 3.2%, and for low-income countries, around 4.7%. The world GDP will still be 1.8% below pre-pandemic levels by 2022.
Meanwhile, the Institute for Policy Study reported in August 2021 that U.S. billionaires are $1.8 trillion richer since the start of the pandemic.
We have to find answers about why our world economic system cannot invest a few billion dollars to help low-income countries to protect themselves against COVID-19, which will help us all to truly recover from the devastation of death and economic downturn.
Finally, the main share of our losses is the human suffering and the loss of millions of lives — which we hardly take into account unless it includes loss of production.
Meanwhile, billionaires in the U.S. and around the world are making trillions of dollars in windfall profits. It is about time to realize that we cannot solve our global problems without serving the common good of all of us.
• Jamshid Damooei is a professor of economics and director of the economics program at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, and executive director of the university’s Center for Economics of Social Issues.