It’s two minutes to midnight. And that’s really bad news if you’re a fan of planet Earth.
The so-called Doomsday Clock, a symbol of how close the world is to total annihilation, was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight in a press conference yesterday. The last time it was at two minutes to midnight was when the United States and the Soviet Union both conducted hydrogen bomb tests way back in 1953.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been using a clock to represent the threat of nuclear annihilation since 1947. Last year, the organisation moved the clock from three minutes to midnight to 2.5 minutes to midnight. The furthest that the clock has been from midnight (which is to say the safest) was in 1991, when it was moved to 17 minutes to midnight at the end of the Cold War. The closest to midnight is now a tie between two years: 1953 and 2018.
Lawrence Krauss, chair of the board of sponsors for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, noted that other experts he’s spoken with have said that 2018 is more dangerous than the Cold War.
“To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy,” Krauss said in an op-ed for the Washington Post published to coincide with the announcement.
“North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region and the United States,” Krauss continued.
The clock was started as a direct response to the rise of nuclear weapons in the 1940s, and today the organisation cited President Trump’s tweets and American nuclear posturing with Russia, North Korea and Iran as just a few of the dangerous contributions to our hazardous world.
“We have been lucky to avoid conflict through intentional or accidental means, but recent posturing and the false alarms in Hawaii and Japan show our luck is about to run out if we don’t move quickly,” Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told Gizmodo in a statement.
“A security based on luck is reckless and foolish; it’s exactly what the nuclear states have now. 122 nations voted for the Nuclear Ban Treaty and other nations need to join the process so we can stop flirting with our own destruction and destroy the Doomsday Clock once and for all,” Fihn said.
Nuclear weapons took centre stage in the discussions to move the clock, but it’s not just nukes.
“The clock does not respond to individual events,” Krauss said at the press conference. “There’s not a single factor, but the nuclear situation is a strong concern.”
In 2007 the organisation started looking closer at other threats to the world, such as everything from automation to climate change.
“On the climate-change front, the danger may seem less immediate than risk of nuclear annihilation, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now,” Krauss wrote in his op-ed.
“The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse-gas emissions to manage even the climate risk accepted in the Paris accord. So far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.”
Last year, the clock moved just 30 seconds, something that had never been done before. The reason? Donald Trump had been the US president only a matter of days. Now he’s been president for an entire year, and things are looking even worse.
The organisation knows that the clock is a gimmick, but that’s the entire point.
“We present the clock not so much as doom and gloom as an opportunity for the public to discuss important issues,” Krauss said.
Good luck, everyone. We’re probably going to need it.