Doomsday Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock from three to two and a half minutes before midnight.

By Tim Cunningham

On Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is based at the Harris School at the University of Chicago, moved its Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes before midnight. The clock had previously been at three minutes until midnight.

The Doomsday Clock, created in 1947, is a metaphorical representation of the severity of the existential threats facing humanity. The clock moves closer to midnight as the threats become more imminent.

“Last year, and the year before, we warned that world leaders were failing to act with the speed and on the scale required to protect citizens from the extreme danger posed by climate change and nuclear war,” said the Bulletin's official Doomsday Clock statement. “During the past year, the need for leadership only intensified—yet inaction and brinksmanship have continued, endangering every person, everywhere on Earth. Who will lead humanity away from global disaster?”

The Bulletin highlighted nuclear proliferation, climate change, and the rapid rate of technological innovation as the three primary factors in their decision to move the Doomsday Clock forward. 

The Bulletin’s representatives also cited President Donald Trump as a reason for moving the clock. They expressed concern over the willingness of the Trump administration and others to reject scientific fact and ignore expertise, especially in the realms of climate change and nuclear proliferation.

This is the closest to midnight the clock has been since 1953, when the Soviet Union detonated a hydrogen bomb for the first time and the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union began.

The announcement was made at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Representing the Bulletin were Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher; Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, India, and Israel, among other nations; David Titley, professor at Pennsylvania State University and retired rear admiral; and Lawrence Krauss, professor at Arizona State University.

Pickering cited the development of North Korea’s nuclear program, rising tensions between India and Pakistan, and Trump’s casual talk about nuclear weapons as reasons for alarm. “Progress in reducing the overall threat of nuclear war has stalled—and in many ways, gone into reverse. This state of affairs poses a clear and urgent threat to civilization, and citizens around the world should demand that their leaders quickly address and lessen the danger,” the Bulletin said in their statement.

Titley called on leaders to decisively and quickly to address climate change. “Climate change should not be a partisan issue,” he said. Titley asked the Trump administration to state “clearly and unequivocally” that it accepts the reality of climate change. 

Krauss discussed concerns over rapid technological innovation, especially cyber technology. He cited Russia’s intervention in the U.S. presidential election as an example of how technology can be used to threaten the fabric of democracy by undermining faith in elections and the veracity of news outlets.

In the Bulletin’s statement, Bronson highlighted the importance of the Clock and called for action in the wake of its announcement. “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,” she said.