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25th January 2018

Doomsday Clock now at two minutes to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has today moved its iconic "Doomsday Clock" forwards by 30 seconds, the closest it has been to midnight since the height of the Cold War in 1953.

 

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The Doomsday Clock is a symbol that displays the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board, it represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war. Since 2007, it has also reflected climate change and new developments in science and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.

The Clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as "midnight" and The Bulletin's opinion on how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of "minutes" to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 22 times since then.

Today – due to growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers – the iconic Doomsday Clock is now 30 seconds closer to midnight, the closest to the symbolic point of annihilation that it has been since 1953 at the height of the Cold War. The decision to move it forward was made by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates.

A statement explaining the resetting of the time of the Doomsday Clock notes: "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II. The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm. 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. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation. On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge."

Fuelling concerns about the potential of a nuclear holocaust are a range of U.S.-Russian military entanglements, South China Sea tensions, escalating rhetoric between Pakistan and India, and uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal. Contributing to the risks of nuclear and non-nuclear clashes around the globe are the rise of nation-state information technology and Internet-based campaigns attacking infrastructure and free elections, according to the Bulletin's statement.

Also highlighted is an overarching global concern about the decline of U.S. leadership and related demise of diplomacy under President Trump: "There has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its longstanding leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions or understand when U.S. pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surrealistic sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening."

Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Board of Sponsors, commented: "The current, extremely dangerous state of world affairs need not be permanent. The means for managing dangerous technology and reducing global-scale risk exist; indeed, many of them are well-known and within society's reach, if leaders pay reasonable attention to preserving the long-term prospects of humanity, and if citizens demand that they do so. This is a dangerous time – but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them. This year, leaders and citizens of the world can move the Clock and the world away from the metaphorical midnight of global catastrophe, by taking common-sense action."

Robert Rosner, chair of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, said: "We hope this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant – as an urgent warning of 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: #RewindtheDoomsdayClock."

Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute and co-leader of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, said: "2017 just clocked in as the hottest year on record that wasn't boosted by El Niño. And that matches what we've witnessed on the ground: the Caribbean suffered a season of historic damage from exceedingly powerful hurricanes, extreme heat waves struck across the globe, the Arctic ice cap hit its lowest winter peak on record, and the U.S. suffered devastating wildfires. And while this was happening, the Trump administration dutifully carried through on the campaign promise of derailing U.S. climate policy, putting avowed climate denialists in top cabinet positions and announcing plans to withdraw from the Paris climate Agreement. Thankfully, this didn't cause global cooperation to unravel, and other countries have reaffirmed their commitment to take action against climate change."

 

 

Some of the action steps recommended by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists are as follows:

• U.S. President Donald Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, recognising the impossibility of predicting North Korean reactions. The U.S. and North Korean governments should open multiple channels of communication.

• The world community should pursue, as a short-term goal, the cessation of North Korea's nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests. North Korea is the only country to violate the norm against nuclear testing in 20 years.

• The Trump administration should abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran's nuclear program, unless credible evidence emerges that Iran is not complying with the agreement or Iran agrees to an alternative approach that meets U.S. national security needs.

• The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO.

• U.S. and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty, to seek further reductions in nuclear arms, to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries, to limit nuclear modernisation programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race, and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built, and existing tactical weapons are never used.

• U.S. citizens should demand, in all legal ways, climate action from their government. Climate change is a real and serious threat to humanity.

• Governments around the world should redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they go well beyond the initial, inadequate pledges under the Paris Agreement.

• The international community should establish new protocols to discourage and penalise the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself.

 

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