Today, Thursday 26th January, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists took an unprecedented step by moving the Doomsday Clock—which is a symbolic clock-face that represents possible global catastrophe—ahead 30 seconds.
The clock, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary, was previously three minutes to midnight and now sits at two and a half minutes to midnight.
Midnight on the clock signifies when the scientists believe “doomsday” will occur. The closer the minute hand reaches toward midnight, the closer we are believed to be “destroying civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making.”
The forward move on the clock means that the group’s Science and Security Board, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates, believes that Earth is now closer to an apocalypse than it was during the most intense periods during the Cold War.
The only other time the clock was this close to midnight was in 1953 when the U.S. was pursuing the hydrogen bomb, and both Russia and the U.S. had successfully tested thermonuclear bombs within six months of one another.
The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 by concerned University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. The clock was a way to measure how close humans are to destroying our civilization.
The clock, which hangs on a wall in The Bulletin’s office at the University of Chicago, has only been moved 19 times since it was established, and the last move was in January 2015, when it moved from five minutes to midnight to three minutes to midnight.
The Bulletin is an independent, non-profit organization run by some of the world’s leading scientists.
Ahead of today’s move the scientists announced in a statement that Trump was a key to their decision and that it had been made as the international community was failing to deal with global threats:
“Factors influencing the 2017 deliberations regarding any adjustment that may be made to the Doomsday Clock include: a rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump’s comments on nuclear arms and climate issues prior to his inauguration on January 20th, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology and a growing disregard for scientific expertise.”
Almost all of the reasons for moving the clock forward were attributed to the president of the United States, Donald Trump.
The scientists explained in their statement:
“We understand that Mr. Trump has been in office only days, that many of his cabinet nominees are awaiting confirmation and that he has had little time to take official action…but Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change.”
“Never before has The Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person,” Lawrence Krauss and David Titley who lead the organization wrote,“But when that person is the new President of the United States, his words matter.”
Other issues that influenced moving the clock included the development and threat of nuclear weapons being built by North Korea, India and Pakistan, Russia and China; the doubt over the future of the Iran nuclear deal and deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia.
Krauss and Titley also wrote in their statement:
“These are all matters in which President Trump has signaled that he would make matters worse either because of a mistaken belief that the threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate can be ignored or that the words of a President of the United States do not matter to the rest of the world.”
Last year, when the Doomsday Clock remained at three minutes to midnight, The Bulletin released a statement that read:
“Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”
Dr. Rachel Bronson, executive director of The Bulletin explained:
“Today’s complex global environment is in need of deliberate and considered policy responses. It is ever more important that senior leaders across the globe calm rather than stoke tensions that could lead to war, either by accident or miscalculation…I hope the debate engendered by the 2017 setting of the clock raises the level of conversation, promotes calls to action, and helps citizens around the world hold their leaders responsible for delivering a safer and healthier planet.”
The Doomsday Clock is viewed as an alarm call to wake the world up to the humanity’s most growing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.
Author: Alex Myles
Image: Instagram @cubachik
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina