With Trump in charge, Doomsday Clock now closer to midnight

Symbolic warning of imminent disaster moved to 2½ minutes before the final hour

 Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and retired ambassador  Thomas Pickering announce the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ decision to move the Doomsday Clock closer to  midnight. The group, founded by scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project,  designed the clock to “convey how close we are to destroying civilization”. Photograph: EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and retired ambassador Thomas Pickering announce the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ decision to move the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. The group, founded by scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, designed the clock to “convey how close we are to destroying civilization”. Photograph: EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

 

It is getting closer to midnight.

On Thursday, the group of scientists who orchestrate the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic instrument informing the public when the earth is facing imminent disaster, moved its minute hand to 2½ minutes before the final hour.

This is the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953, the year after the US and the Soviet Union conducted competing hydrogen bomb tests.

Though scientists maintain the clock’s status, it is not a scientific instrument, or even a physical one. The movement of its symbolic hands is decided by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The organisation’s journal of the same name introduced the clock on the cover of its June 1947 edition, placing it at seven minutes to midnight. Since then, it has moved both closer to midnight and farther away, depending on the board’s conclusions.

Thursday’s announcement was made by Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the journal. She was assisted by theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, climate scientist and meteorologist David Titley, and retired US ambassador Thomas Pickering.

Nuclear and climate

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Mr Titley and Mr Krauss elaborated on their concerns, citing the increasing threats of nuclear weapons and climate change, as well as president Donald Trump’s pledges to impede what they see as progress on both fronts, as reasons for moving the clock closer to midnight.

“Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person,” they wrote. “But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

In 1990, at the end of the cold war, the clock was at 10 minutes to midnight. The next year, it was a full 17 minutes away, at 11.43. But over the next two decades the clock slowly ticked back. By 2015, the scientists were back in a state of unmitigated concern, with the clock at three minutes to midnight, the closest it had been since 1984.

“Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity,” the bulletin said. “World leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe.”

“These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth,” it added.

New York Times service