A group of scientists has moved the symbolic ‘Doomsday Clock’ a half-minute closer to midnight, saying world leaders have failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.
The clock, which is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and aims to represent how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction, is now two minutes to midnight, its closest approach in nearly 60 years due to the threat of nuclear weapons and other concerns.
“North Korea’s nuclear weapons program made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea itself, other countries in the region, and the United States,” the bulletin said. “Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.”
The annual update also cited tensions between the United States and Russia, which was demonstrated by military exercises along the borders of NATO, the undermining of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), upgrades to their nuclear arsenals, and the avoidance of arms control negotiations.
In Asia, tensions have continued to rise over the South China Sea and both Pakistan and India have continued to grow their nuclear capabilities. Additionally, the bulletin said, uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the Iranian nuclear deal adds to a “bleak overall picture.”
“To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger – and its immediacy,” the bulletin said.
Another contributing factor is the growing threat from climate change, which has been factored into the Doomsday Clock since 2007. “The danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now,” the scientists said.
The bulletin also called attention to the undermining of democracy through deception campaigns on the internet. It said companies such as Facebook and Google have been slow to act to prevent misuse of their services and they called on the international community to establish new measures to penalize cross-border subversions of democracy.
“This danger looms at a time when there’s been a loss of trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in facts themselves, all of which exacerbate the difficulty of dealing with the real problems the world faces and which threaten to undermine the ability of governments to effectively deal with these problems,” said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist.
“The media, too, plays a role here, focusing on political infighting in Congress or salacious news about scandals in Congress, Hollywood, or the White House, which distract from reporting on the significant long-term threats that helps guide public interest away from serious discussion about these threats,” Krauss added.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said it hoped moving the clock closer to midnight will be interpreted as an “urgent warning” of the global danger. “The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now,” they said.
The Doomsday Clock was launched in 1947 at seven minutes to midnight. The closest approach to midnight was from 1953 to 1960 as the United States and the Soviet Union carried out tests of thermonuclear devices. Because the clock is updated only once a year, it did not move during the Cuban missile crisis.
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