The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock has only been closer to midnight once before, after the U.S. and U.S.S.R. tested hydrogen bombs in 1953.
70 years after it’s creation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved their Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight, calling the time two minutes thirty seconds to midnight. This is the first time the clock has been moved in a 30-second increment.
The Bulletin describes the clock as a ‘metaphor’, saying, “The Doomsday Clock is a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.”
In the history of clock, which began running in 1947, the perception of proximity to the ultimate threat has only been closer in one instance when the clock was moved to two minutes to midnight in 1953, after both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. tested hydrogen bombs, and stayed there till 1960, when it moved back to seven minutes to midnight.
“In January 2016, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand did not change, remaining at three minutes before midnight. The Clock was changed in 2015 from five to three minutes to midnight, the closest it had been since the arms race of the 1980s,” says the Bulletin.
So how do they move the clock? The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board meets twice a year to discuss world events and reset the clock as necessary. “The board is made up of scientists and other experts with deep knowledge of nuclear technology and climate science, who often provide expert advice to governments and international agencies. They consult widely with their colleagues across a range of disciplines and also seek the views of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates,” according to their website.
The Bulletin is a bit like a doctor making a diagnosis. We look at data, as physicians look at lab tests and x-rays, and also take harder-to-quantify factors into account, as physicians do when talking with patients and family members. We consider as many symptoms, measurements, and circumstances as we can. Then we come to a judgment that sums up what could happen if leaders and citizens don’t take action to treat the conditions.
The Executive Director and Publisher of the Bulletin, Rachel Bronson, writes:
In addition to the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, new global realities emerged, as trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise, and words were used in cavalier and often reckless ways. As if to prove that words matter and fake news is dangerous, Pakistan’s foreign minister issued a blustery statement, a tweet actually, flexing Pakistan’s nuclear muscle—in response to a fabricated “news” story about Israel.
This time round, they’ve moved the clock over a variety of reasons, including North Korean nuclear and missile tests, as well as the ‘intemperate statements’ and ‘casual talk’ of President Donald Trump with respect to international security and nuclear weapons, proliferation of strategic weapons, besides the lack of progress on climate change issues.
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. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the US nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science.
In short, even though he has just now taken office, the president’s intemperate statements, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse.
Times are bad.