For the first time in 64 years, atomic scientists reset their symbolic "Doomsday Clock" to its closest time to midnight on Thursday, saying the world was closer to catastrophe due to threats such as nuclear weapons, climate change and Donald Trump's election as U.S. president. The timepiece, devised by the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and displayed on its website, is widely viewed as an indicator of the world's vulnerability to disaster.
The "clock's" hands were moved to two minutes and 30 seconds to midnight, from three minutes.
"The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than it's ever been in the lifetime of almost everyone in this room," Lawrence Krauss, the bulletin's chair and a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University, told a news conference in Washington. The last time the "clock" was set this close to midnight was 1953, marking the start of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the clock was unchanged last January, 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.
In its statement about the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board noted:
“Over the course of 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change … This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a US presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change …The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute — something it has never before done — reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days …”
The statement continues:
“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. 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.”
We get it: America's atomic scientists do not like Trump.
Krauss, a theoretical physicist, said Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin carried a large share of the blame for the heightened threat. According to Reuters, the bulletin cited nuclear volatility, especially as the United States and Russia seek to modernize their atomic arsenals and remain at odds in war-torn countries such as Syria and Ukraine.
Trump has suggested South Korea and Japan could acquire nuclear weapons to compete with North Korea, which has conducted nuclear tests. Trump has also raised doubts about the future of a multilateral nuclear pact with Iran. Chinese aid to Pakistan in the nuclear weapons field, as well as the expansion of India and Pakistan's nuclear arsenals, were also worrisome, the bulletin said in a statement.
The climate change outlook was somewhat less dismal, "but only somewhat."
While nations had taken actions to combat climate change, the bulletin noted, there appeared to be little appetite for additional cuts to carbon dioxide emissions.
It said the Trump administration nominees raise the possibility the government will be "openly hostile to progress toward even the most modest efforts to avert catastrophic climate disruption."
The world also faces cyber threats, the bulletin said. U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia intervened in the presidential election to help Trump raised the possibility of similar attacks on other democracies, it said.
The bulletin was founded by scientists who helped develop the United States' first atomic weapons. Its Science and Security Board decides on the clock's hands in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes Nobel laureates.