The Doomsday Clock just advanced, ‘thanks to Trump’: It’s now just 2½ minutes to ‘midnight.’

It's now 2 ½ minutes to “midnight,” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which warned Thursday that the end of humanity may be near.

The group behind the famed Doomsday Clock announced at a news conference that it was adjusting the countdown to the End of it All by moving the hands 30 seconds closer to midnight — the closest the clock has been to Doomsday since 1953, after the United States tested its first thermonuclear device, followed months later by the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb test.

In announcing that the Doomsday Clock was moving 30 seconds closer to the end of humanity, the group noted that in 2016, “the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change.”

But the organization also cited the election of President Trump in changing the symbolic clock.

“Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts,” theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss and retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley wrote in a New York Times op-ed on behalf of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

It's now 2 ½ minutes to “midnight,” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which warned Thursday that the end of humanity may be near.

The group behind the famed Doomsday Clock announced at a news conference that it was adjusting the countdown to the End of it All by moving the hands 30 seconds closer to midnight — the closest the clock has been to Doomsday since 1953, after the United States tested its first thermonuclear device, followed months later by the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb test.

In announcing that the Doomsday Clock was moving 30 seconds closer to the end of humanity, the group noted that in 2016, “the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change.”

But the organization also cited the election of President Trump in changing the symbolic clock.

“Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts,” theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss and retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley wrote in a New York Times op-ed on behalf of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

The clock is symbolic, sitting at the intersection of art and science, and it has wavered between two minutes and 17 minutes till 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.

The clock was last moved in 2015, when two minutes were taken away to express the group's dissatisfaction with world progress on “unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals.” Those issues, the group said at the time, “pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity.”

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was founded by some of the people who worked on the Manhattan Project. One of them, nuclear physicist Alexander Langsdorf, was married to artist Martyl Langsdorf. She created the clock and set it at seven minutes to midnight, or 11:53, for the cover of the group's magazine. Her husband moved the time four minutes later in 1949.

Since then, the bulletin's board has determined when the clock's minute hand will move, usually to draw attention to worldwide crises that, the board believes, threaten the survival of the human species. 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.

In 2016, the bulletin said in its statement: “The United States and Russia — which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons — remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO; both countries continued wide-ranging modernizations of their nuclear forces, and serious arms control negotiations were nowhere to be seen. North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests and gave every indication it would continue to develop nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control in Kashmir after militants attacked two Indian army bases.”

The group noted that the “climate change outlook was somewhat less dismal — but only somewhat.”

Notably, the bulletin added: “This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a US presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.”

Titley, the retired rear admiral and founding director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, said that despite some encouraging signs, such as the Paris agreement, global warming continues to threaten the future of humanity.

He pointed out that 2016 was the warmest year on record and that 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2001. He cited a September 2016 intelligence report that highlighted the many threats posed by climate change, including global instability, increased risk to human health and adverse effects on food availability.

But, Titley said, the political situation in the United States is of “particular concern.”

“Climate change should not be a partisan issue,” he said. “The well-established physics of the earth's carbon cycle is neither liberal, nor conservative in character. The Trump Administration needs to state clearly and unequivocally that it accepts climate change caused by human activity as reality. There are no alternative facts here.”

Rachel Bronson, the Bulletin's executive director and publisher, said threats such as climate change are being compounded by “a growing disregard for scientific expertise.”

“There is a troubling propensity to discount, or outright reject, expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts,” she said. “The board concludes in no uncertain terms that words matter in ensuring the safety and security of our planet.”

Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state who also served as ambassador to the United Nations and Israel, cited Trump's “casual talk” about nuclear weapons in telling reporters that “nuclear rhetoric is now loose and destabilizing.”

“We are more than ever impressed that words matter, words count,” he said.

In their Times op-ed, Krauss and Titley wrote:
We understand that Mr. Trump has been in office only days, that many of his cabinet nominees are awaiting confirmation and that he has had little time to take official action.

But Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump faced a recurring charge: that he could not be trusted with the nation's nuclear weapons.

In August, a group of 50 former national security officials who served Republican and Democratic presidents signed an open letter saying Trump lacked the character, values and experience to be president.

“All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” the group said.

The worst-possible scenario was at times unspoken but clear — that Trump's lack of self-control could spark nuclear war.

“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” his Democratic campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, charged.

While Trump has repeatedly dismissed those criticisms, he has done little to calm fears of impending nuclear war since winning the presidency. Last month, Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” He did not elaborate on the message, which followed comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin about strengthening his country's nuclear arsenal.

Trump's tweet — and comments he reportedly made the following day to MSNBC's “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski — sparked fears of a renewed arms race between the two countries.

Although Trump later seemed to back off his statements, suggesting in an interview with two European publications that “nuclear weapons should be way down,” there were reasons to be concerned after he gained control of the United States' nearly 1,400 active nuclear warheads on Inauguration Day, The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor said.

Two days after Trump was elected, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki invited him to visit, the Japan Times reported.

Then, Tadatoshi Akiba, the former mayor of Hiroshima, wrote a letter to Trump just before his inauguration, urging him to make “wise and peaceable” decisions regarding nuclear weapons.

(Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)


The Doomsday Clock’s Most Dire Warning Since the Cold War

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced Thursday that the Doomsday Clock now stands at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, suggesting that existential threats now pose a greater danger to humanity than they have at any time since the height of the Cold War.

The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic warning about how close the world stands to “midnight,” that is, nuclear or existential catastrophe. Since 1947, the Bulletin’s scientists and security experts have updated it annually. Many of the world’s most acclaimed scientists—including Stephen Hawking, Susan Solomon, Lisa Randall, and Freeman Dyson—sponsor, oversee, or consult with the Bulletin.

“This is the closest to midnight the Doomsday Clock has ever been in the lifetime of almost everyone in this room. It’s been 64 years since it was closer,” said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University and the chair of the Bulletin’s board of sponsors.

The clock has edged closer to midnight only once before: In 1953, it was moved to two minutes to midnight after the United States and the Soviet Union both tested hydrogen bombs, kicking off the mid-century nuclear-arms race. It remained at two minutes to midnight for another seven years.

At a press conference two blocks from the White House on Thursday, the scientists of the Bulletin specified that they were taking the action out of specific concern for the words of two men: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Not in the 70-year history of the clock had rhetoric from so few individuals so affected the movement of the clock, they said.

“Nuclear rhetoric is now loose and destabilizing. We are more than ever impressed that words matter, words count,” Thomas Pickering, a longtime American diplomat who served as George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations and Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Russia, said at the press conference.

Yet the Doomsday Clock no longer warns only of the dangers of nuclear apocalypse. Since 2007, it has countenanced other existential threats—catastrophes that could wipe out all of humanity or, at least, devastate modern civilization. In the Bulletin’s view, the most important of these is climate change.

“Climate change should not be a partisan issue. The Trump administration needs to clearly and unequivocally state that climate change, caused by human activity, is a reality,” said David Titley, a former rear admiral of the U.S. Navy and a current professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University. The White House also has to publicly recognize the value of taking even “moderate steps” to combat catastrophic global warming, he said.

Other existential risks factored into this year’s judgement as well. The Russian cyber-attack on the U.S. political system illustrated that cyber warfare could destabilize the basic infrastructure of global decision-making, the Bulletin said. The gene-editing tool CRISPR would make some kinds of biological weapons easier to produce, especially for countries or syndicates who could not afford university-quality scientific labs. Krauss also cited the rise of “fake news” as a concern: Last month, the defense minister of Pakistan mistook a fake news story about Israel as real and tweeted a saber-rattling nuclear promise to that country.

But all these additional existential concerns have in some ways diluted the Bulletin’s original reason for existence: concern about the threat of nuclear warfare. In the 1980s, the clock stood at three minutes to midnight—yet in 1983, the world nearly tumbled into nuclear war twice (though the public had no idea it was happening). Last year, former Secretary of Defense William Perry warned that the clock should stand at five minutes to midnight for nuclear war—but only one minute to midnight for the threat of nuclear terrorism.

At last year’s press conference, he warned that the Doomsday Clock now issued a  “more dangerous, more ominous forecast than two thirds of the years during the Cold War.”

On Thursday, the panel of scientists warned that all those structural dangers were still major threats, but that they had been intensified by thoughtless rhetoric and a rising tide of nationalism around the world. They exhorted Trump and Putin to use their friendly relationship to reduce nuclear-weapons stocks, and not to plunge into the nuclear-modernization programs that both their countries are planning.

Such programs might even lead to a resumption of nuclear tests, said Krauss.

“President Trump and President Putin, who claim to have great respect for each other, can choose to act together as statesmen—or they can act as petulant children, risking our future,” he said. “Facts are stubborn things. They must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved.”


What is the Doomsday Clock and why should we keep track of the time?

It made headlines recently when the Doomsday Clock was shifted from three minutes to midnight to a new setting of two and a half minutes to midnight.

That is the nearest the clock has been to midnight for more than fifty years. The body responsible for the clock said
the probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.
It should be an urgent warning to world leaders.

The idea of a Doomsday Clock was conceived by the editorial staff of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which was founded by many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project.

When that publication graduated from being an internal newsletter among the nuclear science community to being a formal magazine in 1947, the clock appeared on the cover. The magazine’s founders said the clock symbolised
the urgency of the nuclear dangers that [we] – and the broader scientific community – are trying to convey to the public and political leaders around the world.
The clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. Two years later, with the news that a nuclear weapon had been tested by the USSR, the communist state centred on modern Russia, the clock was moved to 11.57.

In 1953, the USA first tested the hydrogen bomb, a fusion weapon much more powerful than the fission bombs that had destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The USSR followed a few months later and the clock was advanced to 11.58 with a warning there was a real chance that
from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilization.
Then there was a period of modest progress. It gradually became apparent that the new weapons were so powerful that only a deranged leader would consider using them against a similarly armed enemy, given the inevitability of catastrophic retaliation.

In 1963, after they had been continuously testing more and more deadly weapons, the USA and the USSR signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited atmospheric testing. The clock was moved back to 11.48.

It was a false dawn. The two super-powers simply shifted their testing of new weapons to underground facilities, while other countries such as Britain, France and China developed their own nuclear arsenals.

The clock gradually moved closer and closer to midnight until the mid-1980s when it stood at 11.57. Then Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the leadership of the USSR and began a series of negotiations to ease tensions and reduce the risk of nuclear war.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 effectively marked the end of the so-called Cold War between communism and capitalism. The subsequent collapse of the USSR led to large reductions in the nuclear arsenals, and by 1991 the clock had moved back to 11.43.

Once again, there were optimistic hopes of an era of peace and an end to the threat of nuclear weapons. It was not to be. The political system in the US made it almost impossible to scale back arms production.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, negotiated in the 1970s, aimed to prevent the spread of weapons beyond the five nations that had already acquired them. But those countries did not implement their promise to disarm, so inevitably other nations decided that they would be more secure if they had nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan and Israel. The clock moved forward again year by year, reaching 11.53 by 2002.

New threats

Since then, the managers of the Doomsday Clock have added new threats to the original fear of nuclear war. In 2007, they said “climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity” and advanced the clock to 11.55.

More recent annual reports have warned that
international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty – ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.
The change should be welcomed. Even if nuclear weapons did not exist, climate change and the accelerating loss of biodiversity are serious threats. Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; climate change is causing loss of life and property, as well as affecting natural systems.

At the same time, the nations with nuclear weapons are still testing new devices and more sophisticated delivery systems. The number of weapons has dropped from its peak of over 60,000 to about 10,000. But that is still enough firepower to wipe out civilisation several times over.

And there are new players, including North Korea and perhaps Iran. As the 2017 report said,
It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.
This really is a call to arms and deserves more attention from our media.

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