Why do scientists think we're nearing the end of the world?

Members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unveil the 2017 time for the 'Doomsday Clock' on Jan. 26, 2017, in Washington, D.C.  Win McNamee/Getty Images
Members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unveil the 2017 time for the 'Doomsday Clock' on Jan. 26, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

In a purely symbolic, but still unsettling move, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the second hand on its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to the end of times. The clock now reads 11:57 and 30 seconds. The 70-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.

This 30-second forward time change brings the world the closest to midnight and global disaster since 1953 when it was at 11:58 — after both the United States and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs. From 2015 to 2016, the minute hand stayed at three minutes before midnight, the closest it’s been since the early ’80s.

In a statement, the independent nonprofit group said global nuclear volatility, climate change and increasing carbon emissions, threats from emerging technologies, and the rise in “strident nationalism” were factors in its conclusion, as was the political situation in the United States”:

“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 U.S. president only a matter of days. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the U.S. 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.”

BAS also said the international community failed to address the world’s biggest threats in 2016 — nuclear weapons and climate change. “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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