Nation & World

‘Doomsday Clock’ ticks closest to midnight since 1953

If you’re one of those who has been thinking we’re doomed lately, you might be onto something.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on Thursday said the global security landscape has darkened and turned the hands of the Doomsday Clock to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. That’s a half-minute closer to catastrophe than last year and the closest it has been to “doomsday” in 64 years during the Cold War.

“In addition to the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, new global realities emerged,” executive director and publisher Rachel Bronson says in a statement accompanying the bulletin’s annual announcement. “Trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise, and words were used in cavalier and often reckless ways. As if to prove that words matter and fake news is dangerous, Pakistan’s foreign minister issued a blustery statement, a tweet actually, flexing Pakistan’s nuclear muscle — in response to a fabricated ‘news’ story about Israel.”

She notes that serious threats to the planet and humanity have expanded and concludes that the complex global environment “is in need of deliberate and considered policy responses.”

The Bulletin created the Doomsday Clock 70 years ago, two years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, to convey threats to humanity and the planet. It reached two minutes to midnight in 1953 after the United States detonated its first thermonuclear bomb and Russia detonated a hydrogen bomb.

As a primary reason for moving the clock foward this year, after leaving it at three minutes ’til midnight the last two years, the report cites newly elected President Donald Trump’s “ill-considered” and “intemperate” statements about expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, his comments encouraging other countries to acquire nuclear weapons, and his apparent skepticism of climate science.

It also notes the tensions between the United States and Russia, which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and are developing more weapons capabilities; North Korea’s nuclear tests and weapons development; China’s improving nuclear forces; the threat of nuclear warfare between India and Pakistan, which continue to expand their arsenals, and concludes: “Progress in reducing the overall threat of nuclear war has stalled — and in many ways, gone into reverse.”

The report also cites the challenges posed by cyber threats and sophisticated hacking, referring to the U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia intervened in cyberspace to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election; autonomous machine systems like self-driving cars and weapons systems; bioweapons and other “dangerous manipulations of genetic material.”

The scientists end with a call on the citizens of the world to pressure their government leaders to address these urgent issues, adding: “Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. It they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

Tom Uhler: 817-390-7832, @tomuh