Geology is a slow science. After several years of deliberation, the world's most distinguished rock readers are still deciding whether the Earth has entered a new geologic period in which humanity has replaced natural forces as the dominant influence on the planet. Boulders are being reduced to sand in the time this decision is taking.

The industrial era was just over a century old when an Italian geologist noticed evidence of humanity in everything from marine sediments and peat bogs to glacial remains and volcanic rocks. He concluded this was evidence the planet had entered a new geological period called the Anthropozoic. The word evolved to "Anthropocene" by the turn of the last century.

Although verification of a new epoch is still not official, non-scientists have rushed to declare we have indeed entered the Anthropocene. Unfortunately, it could be called the Anthrodestruo, Latin for "man" and "destroy." All the human influences geologists listed are negatives, from islands of plastics in the oceans to toxic chemicals and climate change. We are enriching ourselves by impoverishing and destroying the ecosystems that keep the biosphere running smoothly.

Another development with existential implications began around 1895 when a scientist discovered what chemist Marie Curie named "radiation." Between 1939 and 1949, the study of radiation led to the development of the atomic bomb. When the United States tested the first one, Robert Oppenheimer, who helped create it, famously quoted the Bhagavad-Gita: Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. "We knew the world would not be the same," he said.

The entire world witnessed the power of the bomb at the end of World War II when the United States dropped one on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and another on the city of Nagasaki.

That ended the war, but it launched a race among nations to develop their own nuclear weapons and created a "nuclear club." Led by the United States and the Soviet Union, governments built far more warheads than necessary to wipe out life in a flash. A nuclear war would create firestorms whose soot would blanket the Earth for weeks, perhaps months, causing subfreezing temperatures, preventing photosynthesis, and resulting in unprecedented deaths from starvation, exposure, and disease. Over a few dimmed years, 5 billion people would die from famine alone, researchers said.

In other words, humankind has used its genius to create at least two methods of mass suicide. Either would end life as we have known it for more than 11,000 years. It’s unsettling that any U.S. president has unchecked power to launch nuclear weapons. Putin presumably has the same authority in Russia, as does North Korea's Kim Jong Un. The same is believed true for the presidents or prime ministers of the United Kingdom, France, China, India, and Pakistan.

With nearly 30 arms-control treaties and agreements, including 10 between the two major nuclear power, the United States and Russia, the world has avoided a nuclear weapons exchange for nearly 80 years. But according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the nuclear club now includes eight and possibly nine nations that collectively control at least 15,600 warheads. Russia, China, and North Korea are among them. Five other countries host nuclear weapons.

ICAN estimates a single nuclear weapon detonated over New York City would kill more than 580,000 people, more than five times the number killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

The last remaining arms-control agreement between Russia and the U.S., called New START, is scheduled to expire in 2026, but Vladimir Putin recently suspended it in protest over America's involvement in the Ukraine War. Putin has also threatened to use Russian nukes against the West for its involvement in the Ukraine war. He has announced he will deploy tactical nuclear weapons with less range and explosive power in Belarus on Ukraine's northern border.

The only international venue for discussing the drawdown of nuclear weapons, the Conference on Disarmament, reportedly has stagnated since the United Nations General Assembly’s approved a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. The Conference has tried to remobilize since then and plans to continue its work this year. But besides the usual difficulties of reaching international agreements, the process is handicapped by ill will among its members in regard to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s missile-rattling, North Korea’s rapid development of nuclear weapons and its braggadocio in testing ballistic missiles, Iran’s efforts to join the nuclear club, and a lack of political will and trust among the member organizations. Meantime, international worries are growing about space-based nuclear weapons, new delivery methods, cyber security, hypersonic weapons, the weaponization of artificial intelligence, autonomous weapon systems, automated battlefield decision-making, and more.

As for the whimper, President Biden has approved record investments in clean energy, but America must do more. Other nations also are not reducing their greenhouse gas emissions with sufficient urgency, particularly carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. Governments including the U.S. Congress still subsidize fossil fuels ($1 trillion in 2022), the world's biggest banks still provide an average of $3.3 billion annually for fossil fuels projects, and big oil and gas producers appear to be greenwashing with promises to reduce their emissions to net-zero.

Principally for these reasons, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has maintained a "doomsday clock" since 1947 – a metaphor for humanity's threats from scientific and technological advances. In January, it moved the clock to 90 seconds from midnight, the closest ever to doom.

Yet world leaders, preoccupied with less life-and-death issues and predisposed to short-term thinking, stumble stubbornly toward the whimper, the bang, or both. The rest of us, similarly preoccupied and vulnerable to denial, are letting it happen.

So, we are sleepwalking through the most dangerous self-inflicted threats in human history. The danger is that we will wake up in a ruined civilization on a ruined planet. Are we really willing to let that happen?