By Mike Brown
The Doomsday Clock will remain at two minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced on Thursday, amid a period described by the board as “the new abnormal.” The board cited increasing carbon emissions and new threats like cyber attacks.
“We see this year at least as dangerous as 1953,” William Perry, the 19th Secretary of State, said during this year’s clock announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., referencing the last time the clock reached two minutes to midnight.
Jerry Brown, former governor of California, was particularly scathing about “the blindness and stupidity of the politicians and their consultants,” as well as “people in high places content with living at the brink of total Armageddon.” Brown criticized coverage of president Donald Trump’s tweets as a drive to get clicks, adding that the “final click could be a nuclear accident.” Brown concluded by pledging to “sound the alarm” and get people “back on the track of dialogue, collaboration, and arms control.”
Perry noted that the danger from Russia was lower than the danger from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. New dangers have emerged in that time though, like the potential for a cyber attack, regional nuclear war from North Korea and others, nuclear terrorism, and a “declining ecological system which is likely to lead us to a climate catastrophe.”
“Global carbon dioxide emissions show how the world is doing at addressing the terrible risks of climate change, and after a few years in which global emissions looked like they were plateauing, we have continued an upward climb in 2017, even faster in 2018,” said Susan Solomon, professor of environmental studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “That’s very bad news, because if we’re going to halt the worst impacts of climate change, the nations of the world have got to cut worldwide emissions to zero well before the end of the century.”
“Anybody who wants to run for president better deal with climate change, because it is a huge problem reaching an irreversible state,” Brown said, calling on international dialogue to resolve issues.
Solomon noted that 2020 is a key date because if humanity fails to start reducing emissions, it will become “pretty clear” that the planet is not taking the correct steps to mitigate a climate disaster. This would raise the risk of average temperature moving to somewhere above 1.5 degrees to two degrees.
When the Doomsday Clock StartedThe clock started in 1947 as a means of communicating the scientific community’s fears around nuclear weapons and other world-ending issues. The clock is aimed at counting down the minutes to midnight, or the end of the world. It came at the end of the Second World War, as a new Cold War was starting to form. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists first set the clock at seven minutes, before jumping up to three minutes just two years later as the Soviet Union completed its first atomic bomb test.
The Closest the Doomsday Clock Has Been to MidnightThe closest it has ever been to midnight is two minutes, reached in 1953 and again in 2018; while the furthest it’s ever been is 17 minutes in 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In 2017, the group set the clock at two-and-a-half minutes, the first time it had ever used a fraction. The move was made amid what bulletin publisher Rachel Bronson described as “cavalier and reckless language” surrounding nuclear threats, plus a “growing disregard of scientific expertise.”
David Titley, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, drew specific attention to “the political situation in the United States,” where Donald Trump had been inaugurated president six days prior.
In 2016, the clock was three minutes to midnight.