California Gov. Jerry Brown’s role as a crusader against the existential threats of nuclear war and climate change was elevated Thursday when he was named executive chairman of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the group famous for managing the Doomsday Clock.
“We really see him as a global ambassador for the issues that we work on — manmade existential threats, nuclear, climate, disruptive technology,” said Rachel Bronson, the group’s president and chief executive.
The Chicago-based bulletin was founded in 1945 after the creation of the atomic bomb and in the decades since has expanded its mission to a broader discussion of threats to human survival. The Doomsday clock is a visual representation of how close the Bulletin believes the world is to catastrophe.
In January, the group moved the hand to just two minutes from midnight.
It’s a topic Brown speaks of frequently, even noting it in his 2018 State of the State Address.
“Our world, our way of life, our system of governance — all are at immediate and genuine risk,” he warned.
As executive chairman, Brown will preside over the Bulletin’s three boards — a governing board, a science and security board and an editorial board. It’s a new role created just for Brown, and he’ll focus on generating global urgency around nuclear and other threats.
“We know that he thinks about big issues,” Bronson said. “These are really hard to talk about — climate change and nuclear risk — because they’re so big and they seem so intractable.”
The new position ensures Brown will stay relevant on the global topics he cares most about when he leaves office in January after four terms as California governor spanning four decades. He warned of nuclear threats during his governorship and presidential bids in the 1970s and 80s and has renewed his focus on the topic during his final years in office.
He also sits on the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, attending meetings of the group in Washington, D.C., this week. While there, he also discussed nuclear threats with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Brown spokesman Evan Westrup declined to provide specifics on the conversation.
Brown was not made available for an interview early Thursday.
But he offered a dark take on the global state of affairs in an article released Thursday on the Bulletin’s website.
“There’s a great risk of radical disruption being set in motion, and to turn it back and turn to a sustainable future is something that has to start now,” he said. “Can we wake people up before the absolute horror has occurred, while these patterns that are inexorably leading to the horror are building up and occurring?”
This story and headline has been corrected to show Brown is joining the organization, not leading it.