Atomic scientists just moved the “doomsday clock” 30 seconds closer to midnight, making it the second closest the clock has ever been to the symbolick stroke of 12 a.m.
The clock itself is not ticking away in London. It is a symbolic gesture from a panel of scientists that highlights the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe on a global level. Scientists who decide where the clock is in relation to humanity’s impending doom include 18 Nobel Laureates.
Today's adjustment brings the clock just two and a half minutes from the time that atomic scientists believe nuclear conflict will reach a disastrous level on a global scale, though the clock also now includes threats on climate change, cyber security, and biological warfare.
This is the closest the clock has been to midnight since the arms race of the Cold War era.
Atomic scientists, including Bronson, said their reasons for moving the clock included increased rhetoric around nuclear threats, the rise of nationalism, climate change, and a growing disrespect for scientists from global leaders, like newly-elected US President Donald Trump.
In 1947, when the first panel of scientists created the Doomsday Clock, it was set at seven minutes with the purpose of highlighting awareness around increasing nuclear development. Seven years later scientists moved the clock hand two minutes forward as tension between the US and Soviet Union rose, as both nations developed supplies and tested nuclear weapons. Here is a look at the clock’s movements over the years.
Now that Trump has expressed his opinion that the US must increase nuclear capacity, “until such time that the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” scientists from the Bulletin of Atomic Science agree that the clock is ticking faster than we thought.
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
A press release from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists revealed that Trump’s words directly influenced the decision to fast-forward the clock.
“Just the same, words matter, and President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as President-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways,” said the statement from BAS.
The statement goes on to say that Trump’s words on expanding nuclear weapons were “ill-considered” and completely disregarded information from international security agencies and intelligence experts.
In spite of this unsettling news, Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who works on the Doomsday Clock, gave some comforting words of guidance and support for scientists in a time where policy has often ignored experts.
“Good policy takes account of politics but is never made in the absence of expertise,” said Krauss while answering panel questions after the conference and announcement of the clock time change.
Krauss also added that it’s urgent for the public to talk to political leaders so that decisions on the future of humanity are not left to just a few people.