The ‘Doomsday clock’ has moved forward 30 seconds to 2 minutes to midnight.
This means the perceived risk to global civilisation is as high today as it has ever been in the face of twin threats, nuclear weapons and climate change, a group of leading scientists has announced, putting a significant share of the blame on the Trump administration.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its symbolic Doomsday Clock forward 30 seconds, to two minutes to midnight, in a reflection of how the scientists view the dangers facing the world. The only other time the clock was set so close to catastrophe in its 71-year history was in 1953, after the US and the Soviet Union detonated their first thermonuclear bombs.
In the immediate aftermath of the cold war, the clock was set back to 17 minutes to midnight, but optimism about humanity’s future has steadily eroded since then.
“To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger and its immediacy,” said Rachel Bronson, the bulletin’s president and CEO, told journalists in Washington.
In explaining their decision on Thursday, scientists from the bulletin’s widely-respected science and security board said that they were disturbed by the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, the increasing emphasis and expenditure on nuclear weapons by major powers, the absence of arms control negotiations around the world, and the wavering political will to combat climate change.
In the year since the hands on the Doomsday Clock were last adjusted, North Korea has carried out its sixth nuclear test, the most powerful to date and almost certainly its first hydrogen bomb. It has also made three successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the third of which, in November, appeared to be capable of reaching New York or Washington.
At the same time, Trump has engaged in a highly personalised exchange of insults with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. He has threatened “fire and fury” against the nation, and vowed to “totally destroy” if Pyongyang continued to threaten the US. American strategic bombers have flown north of the 38th parallel that divides the peninsula, along the North Korean coast.
The bulletin’s scientists repeatedly singled out the Trump administration as a major factor behind the increased risks to the planet, pointing out the president’s volatility as expressed in his tweets and statements; the inconsistency of the administration’s foreign policy; and its apparent disdain for science, reflected in its high-level appointments, which have included climate change deniers.
“Our allies and adversaries alike are being forced into a thicket of conflicting policy statements, from a US administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals and unable to develop, coordinate and clearly communicate a coherent foreign – much less nuclear – policy,” said Robert Rosner, the chair of the Bulletin’s science and security board. “This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management and global stability.”