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  • The Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Thursday that the clock will now be set at 100 seconds to midnight.

    The Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Thursday that the clock will now be set at 100 seconds to midnight. | Photo: Lexey Swall Photography / Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Published 25 January 2020
Opinion

"We now face a true emergency -- an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay," the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said.

The Doomsday Clock was reset Thursday to just 100 seconds before midnight, marking the closest humankind has ever been to total nuclear annihilation and extinction of life due to climate change, according to the researchers who set the metaphorical time.

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"It is 100 seconds to midnight. We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds -- not hours, or even minutes," the Bulletin's President Rachel Bronson said in a statement. 

"We now face a true emergency -- an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay."

The clock was created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. The experts used the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.

Since 2018, the Doomsday Clock has been marking two-minutes till midnight, something not seen since 1947, but this year with one minute and forty seconds, it is the closest ever.  

The decision to move or to leave in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. 

The decision comes amid a planetary climate crisis, that has raised alarms across the globe. 

"The Bulletin considered possible catastrophic disruptions from climate change in its hand-setting deliberations for the first time in 2007," the statement read.

Nuclear Holocaust Around the Corner

A restructuring of nuclear agreements partly due to strategic competition between China and the U.S, and a new “arms race” between the North American nation and Russia; and rising tensions in conflict zones have also played a part to bring that minute-hand closer to midnight. 

As well as the dismissal from the U.S. of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the subsequent announcement from the Persian nation to begin once again the enrichment of uranium. With disarmament talks stalemated for the past two decades, 122 countries have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, expect states with the weaponized material.  

The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons so far has gathered 23 of the 50 ratifications that it needs to come into force, including South Africa, Austria, Thailand, Vietnam, and Mexico. But It is strongly opposed by the U.S., Russia, and other states with nuclear arms.

A rather worrying stance by nuclear superpowers, as the 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) treaty, the only U.S.-Russia arms control pact limiting deployed strategic nuclear weapons, expires in February 2021. While China has stated it will not participate in negotiations on any trilateral nuclear disarmament agreement with the U.S. and Russia. 

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