The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set its Doomsday Clock to two minutes and 30 seconds to midnight—the closest it has been to midnight since 1953.
Originally designed by scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project, the Doomsday Clock symbolically represents how close humanity is to destroying itself through technologies of its own making.
Since its inception in 1947, the clock has expanded from including only nuclear threats to including threats of biological weapons, climate change and cyber warfare. The decision to move the minute hand of the clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, in corporation with its Board of Sponsors.
The Doomsday Clock has hovered at the three minute mark since 2015, when the Bulletin noted that the increasing modernization of nuclear weapons and the lack of effort to enact policies against climate change have endangered humanity greatly. The farthest the clock’s hands have ever been from midnight was 17 minutes in 1991, directly after the end of the Cold War. The closest the hands have been to midnight was two minutes in 1953, after the United States tested its first hydrogen bomb—a weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb.
This hand movement marks the first time in the clock’s history that a 30-second increment has been used.
“Over the course of 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change,” asserted the Bulletin’s “2017 Doomsday Clock Statement.”
The statement goes on to cite the election of President Donald Trump, nuclear weapons tests in North Korea and worsening relations between the United States and Russia as factors for the clock’s readjustment.
Trump’s presidency, the statement explains, is the reason for the unprecedented 30-second hand movement.
“As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the U.S. president only a matter of days. Many of his cabinet nominations are not yet confirmed by the Senate or installed in government, and he has had little time to take official action.”
However, Trump’s comments on nuclear weaponry, his prior rejection of security advice and his “questionable cabinet nominations” for the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have given Bulletin scientists reason to move the clock’s hands.
“Even though he has just now taken office, the president’s intemperate statements, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse,” the statement asserted.
Calling on citizens across the world, the scientists implored citizens to pressure their governmental leaders through all platforms, including social media, to address certain issues. Some of the issues that the statement focuses on included citizens pushing the United States and Russia to further negotiate nuclear armament reduction, having “concerned nations” start a dialogue with North Korea to reduce its own nuclear arms, as well as having governments across the world reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
A final suggestion was to have countries across the world collaborate on creating institutions that would address new technologies and the dangers that could potentially come out of them if left unchecked.
The statement concluded with a warning that the probability of a global catastrophe caused by humanity was “very high” and urged world leaders to take action. If world leaders and public officials do not intervene, Bulletin scientists called for “wise” private citizens to lead the way toward peace instead.