The end is nigh? According to an influential group of atomic scientists, it’s certainly a little closer.
Scientists have moved the hands of the so-called Doomsday Clock closer to midnight, after judging that the threats to humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change and cyber-technology are growing.
The symbolic clock, which is administered by the non-profit Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was designed in 1947 to allow major thinkers to alert the public on how close humans are to destroying the world with dangerous technologies. Those thinkers include 15 Nobel Laureates.
The minute hand of the clock was originally set at seven minutes to midnight and has been moved 21 times since 1947 – the first time in 1949 when the Soviet Union successfully tested its first atomic bomb, when it was moved to three minutes to midnight.
Yesterday’s reset, the first since 2015, put the minute hand at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the closest the world has been judged to be near disaster since 1953, after the US and Russia both tested their first hydrogen bombs.
The furthest the world has been from doom was in 1991, when the minute hand was at 17 minutes to midnight to reflect the end of the Cold War.
The latest move is a sign of the darkening “global security landscape,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists explains in a statement.
“The United States and Russia … remained at odds in a variety of theatres … North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests … Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control,” the statement says.
Meanwhile, the world “continues to warm,” and the “strident nationalism” that emerged in several countries, including in the US with the election victory of Donald Trump, added to the “already threatening world situation.”
“It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way,” the statement concludes.