It is now “three minutes to midnight” on the Doomsday Clock, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which places the blame firmly on “unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernisations, and outsised nuclear weapons arsenals.”
A Brief History of Apocalypse
As a lifelong history buff, the idea of the Doomsday Clock has always fascinated me.
Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had been involved in the infamous Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the “Doomsday Clock” two years later in an effort to visualise the impending disaster of the time so that all could understand just how close to apocalypse we were coming.
The Doomsday Clock uses “the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.” At the beginning of each year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists decide whether to move or leave in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 17 Nobel laureates.
As can be seen below, nothing brought us closer to apocalypse than in 1953, when the United States and the Soviet Union both tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another. (Interestingly, the world’s closest brush with apocalypse — the Cuban Missile Crisis — was over so quickly the Doomsday Clock did not have the time to be set to reflect the impending doom.)
2015 Reaches Three Minutes to Midnight
The recent shift in time on the Doomsday Clock is the first time in three years the minute-hand has moved (when it was also moved closer, and reached five minutes to midnight), and the first time since 1984 that it has reached three minutes to midnight.
“Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity. And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
“These failures of leadership endanger every person on Earth. Based on their observations, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board find conditions in the world to be so threatening that they are moving the hands of the Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight. It is now 3 minutes to midnight.”
Ask your parents — you may even remember it yourself — and the year 2015 was once held as a vision of “the future.” Spend any time on Facebook at the moment, and you’ll be firmly reminded that this is the year Marty McFly is supposed to arrive from the past to find us living in a hover-boarding future.
I don’t think many people would have predicted that the Doomsday Clock would still be necessary, let alone inching closer and closer to apocalyptic midnight.
The last time the Doomsday Clock reached three minutes to midnight was when, as the Bulletin put it, “the United States began a major defense build-up that included the pursuit of a potentially destabilising ballistic missile defense system.” Unsurprisingly, “relations between the United States and the Soviet Union reached an icy nadir.”
“Every channel of communications has been constricted or shut down; every form of contact has been attenuated or cut off. And arms control negotiations have been reduced to a species of propaganda,” the Bulletin wrote then, in explaining why the hands of the Doomsday Clock had been moved to three minutes to midnight
Over 30 years later, and absurdly — as a result of unchecked nuclear weaponisation and the looming threat of irreversible climate change — we find ourselves back at the same place.
“Since the end of the Cold War, there has been cautious optimism about the ability of nuclear weapon states to keep the nuclear arms race in check and to walk back slowly from the precipice of nuclear destruction,” said Sharon Squassoni, a member of the Science and Security Board, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and director and senior fellow at the Proliferation Prevention Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Efforts at reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases have so far been entirely insufficient to prevent unacceptable climate disruption,” added Richard Somerville, a member of the Science and Security Board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and a distinguished professor emeritus and research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.
“Unless much greater emissions reductions occur very soon, the countries of the world will have emitted enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the end of this century to profoundly transform the Earth’s climate. The resulting climate change will harm millions of people and will threaten many key ecological systems on which civilization relies … We call upon world leaders to take coordinated and rapid action to drastically reduce global emissions of heat-trapping gases, especially carbon dioxide.”
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