The Doomsday Clock remains at three minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been in the last 20 years, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, which made the announcement Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
This “is not good news but an expression of grave concern that the situation remains largely the same,” said Lawrence Krauss, the chair of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, at the press conference.
Last year, the board moved the clock to three minutes to midnight, which is the closest the clock has ever been since 1983, at the height of the Cold War. Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapon modernization, and world leaders failing to act against global catastrophe were all listed as reasons for the decision.
This is “an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change,” the board said regarding the 2016 decision. “When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”
Updated since 1947, the Doomsday Clock is a metaphor for just how close humanity is to annihilation. In the past 69 years, the clock has moved 22 times.
While the panel at Tuesday’s announcement did praise the progress from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, the positives are offset by substantial negatives.
“Even as the Iran agreement was hammered out, tensions between the United States and Russia rose to levels reminiscent of the worst periods of the Cold War. Conflict in Ukraine and Syria continued, accompanied by dangerous bluster and brinkmanship, with Turkey, a NATO member, shooting down a Russian warplane involved in Syria, the director of a state-run Russian news agency making statements about turning the United States to radioactive ash, and NATO and Russia repositioning military assets and conducting significant exercises with them,” according to the Bulletin’s statement. “Washington and Moscow continue to adhere to most existing nuclear arms control agreements, but the United States, Russia, and other nuclear weapons countries are engaged in programs to modernize their nuclear arsenals, suggesting that they plan to keep and maintain the readiness of their nuclear weapons for decades, at least — despite their pledges, codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to pursue nuclear disarmament.”
The panel called for the U.S. and Russia to reduce their nuclear weapons’ arsenals, not create new generations of weapons. “What message does this send to non-nuclear nations about our intents?” mused Krauss.
Additionally, the aspirations and goals set at the Paris climate talks need to be backed up by action that shifts industrialized nations towards green technologies, and gives developing nations the tools needed for such developments.
The Bulletin statement recommends the world needs to dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs; re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results; engage North Korea to reduce nuclear risks; follow up on the Paris accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep warming below 2 C; deal with the commercial nuclear waste problem; and create institutions to explore and address potential catastrophic misuses of new technologies.