In its symbolic look at the likelihood of armageddon, members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced today that they are keeping the world's so-called Doomsday Clock at three minutes to "midnight" — a metaphor for the end of the world as we know it. The clock has been set at 11:57PM since January 2015, when it was moved down from five minutes to destruction. It's the closest the clock has been to midnight since the Cold War in the 1980s.
The Bulletin scientists cited a number of reasons why the clock is staying right where it is. Notably, tensions between the United States and Russia are fairly high, reminiscent of their Cold War-era levels; the Bulletin is concerned that the two nations are unlikely to discuss any future arms control measures. And while President Obama signed a major, if controversial, deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon of its own earlier this month. Many other countries are also increasing their nuclear weapons arsenal.
The decision is "not good news."
The decision also took into consideration the current state of global warming. NASA announced recently that 2015 was considered the warmest year in recorded history. The world may have brokered a historic global warning pact in Paris last year, but the Bulletin claims the effort is only a tentative success. Ultimately the Bulletin's message is that the country has made significant strides in many areas, but there is still quite a lot of work to be done. "The decision not to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is not good news," said Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors.
All is not totally lost, though. The Bulletin says the best way to move the clock back is to dramatically reduce spending on nuclear weapons programs. Countries must also work toward nuclear weapon disarmament, while the United States should open better dialogues with countries like Russia, China, and North Korea. And to truly mitigate the dangers of climate change, the countries that are part of the global warming pact must follow through on their promises.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a journal that was created in 1945, after the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Doomsday Clock, the journal's most famous contribution, was started two years later as a way to inform the public about the dangers and likelihood of nuclear war. Its scope has expanded since then, encompassing other factors that could pose threats to our global security. The clock has been updated just 22 times in its 70-year history. The decision to move the clock's minute hand is made by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board and Board of Directors — a group that currently includes 16 Nobel Laureates.
As terrifying as the clock's current position may seem, the time isn't supposed to be a prediction tool for the future. Instead, the Bulletin scientists say the number is reflective of existing statistics and trends related to nuclear technologies, climate change, biotechnologies, and cybersecurity.
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