A 30 seconds adjustment to the Doomsday Clock was announced today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), setting it to 2 minutes before midnight, the closest we've been to a global disaster since 1953.
Each year scientists from BAS' Science and Security Board, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, meet to discuss if they will move the clock hand or leave it as it is, based particularly on nuclear risk, climate change or emerging technologies in other domains. According to the bulletin published today, “the nuclear landscape takes center stage in this year's Clock statement,” despite the new climate changes global society is facing.
The only time human civilization has been so close to “midnight” was in 1953, at the time the U.S. and the Soviet Union's arms race led to the development of the hydrogen bomb, more powerful than any atomic bomb. Not even in 1962 during the “Cuban Missile Crisis”, called the “October Crisis” by the Cubans, did it get that close, partly because events happened too fast and agreements were made between the U.S., Cuba and the USSR for the BAS' scientists to make a decision about the clock.
Now, it seems, the catastrophe is steadily coming closer as new arms race is heating up between the U.S. and a number of its adversaries and Trump's erratic behavior and climate change denialism increase tensions and environmental risks.
“Major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race, one that will be very expensive and will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions,” writes Rachel Bronson, President & CEO of BAS, “Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals.”
The Bulletin cites North Korea's progress in its nuclear weapons program as a threat to itself, other countries in the region and the U.S., as well as “hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides,” which could increase the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.” North Korea is believed to very soon achieve ballistic abilities to reach the U.S. mainland, and in turn the U.S., Japan and South Korea have increased their military exercises in the region.
Tensions between China and the US over the South China Sea, military exercises at the borders of NATO, an increasing arms race between countries with nuclear abilities, such as Pakistan and India, and uncertainties about US relations in the Middle East are cited as the major security reasons we're on the verge of a global, possibly nuclear, disaster.
Regarding a climate disaster, the Bulletin focuses on U.S. policy, saying that the Trump administration, including climate denialists in top positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, announced their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, ignoring “scientific fact and well-founded economic analyses.” are a factor in the increase.
Speaking of Trump, the report also states the international community is struggling to predict US actions, even failing to understand when their pronouncements are real or mere rhetoric.
The BAS also discusses the abuse of information technology, such as hacking operations and the spread of disinformation (social media included) as threats to democracy, causing an increasing loss of public trust in political institutions, the media, science, and even facts themselves.
As for recommendations to “rewind” the Doomsday Clock, the BAS thinks that Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, and invites world powers and the international community to establish peaceful dialogues with the aim to de-escalate the growing threats.
The BAS was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. Two years later, they created the Doomsday Clock to warn about the imminent threats to humanity and the planet, representing the apocalypse as midnight.