The time is 2 minutes to 'the end of humanity'

Scientists advance symbolic Doomsday Clock, citing threats

WASHINGTON • The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the symbolic Doomsday Clock a notch closer to the end of humanity yesterday, moving it ahead by 30 seconds.

It is now set at two minutes to "midnight".

In moving the clock 30 seconds closer to the hour of the apocalypse, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists cited "the failure of President (Donald) Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change".

The organisation now believes "the world is not only more dangerous now than it was a year ago; it is as threatening as it has been since World War II", Bulletin officials Lawrence Krauss and Robert Rosner wrote in an op-ed published yesterday by the Washington Post.

"In fact, the Doomsday Clock is as close to midnight today as it was in 1953, when Cold War fears perhaps reached their highest levels."

Dr Krauss, a theoretical physicist, and Dr Rosner, an astrophysicist, added: "To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger - and its immediacy. North Korea's nuclear weapons programme appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region and the United States."

The clock, a metaphorical measure of humankind's proximity to global catastrophe, also advanced 30 seconds last year, to 2½ minutes to "midnight" - the closest to the apocalyptic hour it had been since 1953, after the United States tested its first thermonuclear device, followed months later by the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb test.

Before yesterday's announcement, experts said there was only one direction the clock could possibly move, given recent geopolitical events - including North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile test and the "my-nuclear-button-is-bigger-than-yours" war of words between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The clock is symbolic, sitting at the intersection of art and science, and it has wavered between two and 17 minutes until doom since its inception in 1947.

A board of scientists and nuclear experts meets regularly to determine what time it is on the Doomsday Clock. This group, called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was founded by veterans of the Manhattan Project - which developed the world's first atomic weapons - concerned about the consequences of their nuclear research.

The group's reasoning focuses almost exclusively on the availability of nuclear weapons and a willingness among the world's great powers to use them. But in recent years, the scientists have also considered the threat posed by climate change, which they said in 2007 was "nearly as dire" as the dangers of nuclear weapons.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2018, with the headline 'The time is 2 minutes to 'the end of humanity''. Print Edition | Subscribe