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For the first time in its history, the Doomsday Clock, an imaginary timepiece that represents humanity’s proximity to annihilation through mechanisms of our own design, has just moved 30 seconds closer to calamity, with the minute hand now at 2 and a half minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced this morning (Jan. 26).
The minute hand’s new position for 2017 was set this morning by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. They last reset it to 3 minutes to midnight — a time that represents global calamity — on Jan. 22, 2015. [Doomsdays: Top 9 Real Ways the World Could End]
Members of the Science and Security Board consider a number of factors when deciding which direction the clock will turn: nuclear threats, such as the total number of nuclear warheads in the world and the security of nuclear materials, as well as threats related to climate change, such as sea level rise and amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide. They also consider the impacts of biosecurity and other emerging dangers, the bulletin reported.
The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 as a cover illustration for the bulletin, a journal founded in 1945 by atomic scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, and who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work,” according to a mission statement. Intended as a warning about how little time there was for humanity to deal with the consequences of having nuclear weapons, its position was fixed at 11:53 p.m.
Since then, the Doomsday Clock has become a symbol of the ongoing peril posed by not only nuclear weapons but also climate change. Scientists and other experts on the Science and Security Board convene twice annually to assess the scope and scale of deadly global dangers and decide if the clock needs to be reset. The minute hand has ticked forward and back, changing position 22 times in the past 70 years.
It hovered as close as 2 minutes to midnight in 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons scarcely six months apart, and drifted as far as 17 minutes before the hour in 1991, with the end of the Cold War and the signing of a treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union promising a significant reduction of nuclear arsenals.
The Doomsday Clock’s minute hand didn’t move at all in 2016, but swept forward in 2015 — advancing from 5 minutes to 3 minutes before midnight — due to “unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals,” all of which “pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity,” the Science and Security Board reported.
The failure of world leaders to act on these threats escalated the probability of catastrophe on a global scale, and “the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon,” the board cautioned.
Though the Doomsday Clock is just a metaphor, the current deadly risk to humanity and the planet is all too real, according to the Bulletin. Now more than ever, our future hinges on global leaders who can confront and address the twin threats of climate change and nuclear weaponry, and work together to arrive at solutions that mitigate the peril to us all ( via livescience.com ).
As the Science and Security Board warned in 2015, “The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act — immediately.”