Why Do Scientists Think We're Nearing the End of the World?


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists unveil the 2018 'Doomsday Clock' Jan. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Citing growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers, the group moved the clock to two minutes before midnight. Win McNamee/Getty Images

In a purely symbolic, but still unsettling move, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists again moved the second hand on its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to the end of times. As of Jan. 25, 2018, the clock now reads 11:58. The 71-year-old Doomsday Clock, which was founded in 1947 by University of Chicago scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, is known globally as a gauge of how close the world could be to the apocalypse.

"Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight — the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War," Rachel Bronson, Ph.D., president and CEO of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said in a statement.

The last time the clock was this close to midnight and global disaster was after both the United States and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs and were engaged in a nuclear arms race. From 2015 to 2016, the minute hand stayed at three minutes before midnight, the closest it had been through the early '80s. In 2017, however, the BAS moved the second hand forward 30 seconds to 11:57 and 30 seconds. That is until now.

In a statement, the independent nonprofit group cited growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers as factors in its conclusion to move the clock forward:

"In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago — and as dangerous as it has been since World War II. The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm. North Korea's nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation ... On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now ... The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge."

BAS also said the decline of U.S. leadership and a related demise of diplomacy under the Trump Administration, as well as concerns about South China Sea tensions, escalating rhetoric between Pakistan and India and uncertainty about U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal, as contributing to the risks of nuclear and non-nuclear clashes around the globe.

"... There has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its longstanding leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions or understand when U.S. pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surrealistic sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening ... Last year, and the year before, we warned that world leaders were failing to act with the speed and on the scale required to protect citizens from the extreme danger posed by climate change and nuclear war."

Since the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which currently boasts 15 Nobel laureates among its leaders, was founded, it has moved the hand on the clock more than 20 times. Each move symbolizes the group's current analysis of the world's chances of survival in the face of political, environmental and technological developments. The most notable factors to the keepers of the clock are the state of nuclear affairs and global climate change.

The farthest the clock has been away from midnight was in 1991, at the end of the Cold War, when the clock was set at 17 minutes to midnight.

But all is not lost. See The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' website to read about some of the BAS-recommended changes the world must make to move the Doomsday Clock back.

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