Doomsday Clock advances closer to midnight amid 'harrowing' reality of climate change, nuclear tensions

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
February 01, 2018, 2:06:55 PM EST

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) advanced the symbolic Doomsday Clock a notch closer to the midnight on Thursday, Jan. 25.

It is now two minutes to midnight, 30 seconds closer than it was a year ago.

The clock is a metaphor for how close humanity is to destroying the planet. Midnight symbolizes the apocalypse.

“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago,” the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board wrote in a statement released on Jan. 25, 2018.

This is the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953 at the height of the Cold War.

In 1953, the United States decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more powerful than any atomic bomb. The Soviets followed this by testing a hydrogen bomb of their own nine months later.

Doomsday clock 2018

Robert Rosner, chairman of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, right, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists member Lawrence Krauss, left, stand next to the Doomsday Clock after unveiling it during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. ( AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The symbolic clock was created by the BAS in 1947. It was founded at the University of Chicago in 1945 by a group of scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons.

The BAS now includes physicists and environmental scientists from around the globe. The decision to move the clock now factors in dangers outside the nuclear realm, such as the environment and cyber threats.

This year’s decision “wasn’t easy” and was not based on a single factor, the BAS said in an announcement on the Thursday.

The greatest risks arose in the nuclear realm this year with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program making remarkable progress in 2017, according to the BAS.

“Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation,” the board wrote in the statement.

Nuclear threats not only loom in North Korea, but nuclear danger also lingers in other regions of the world, such as in Russia, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

"To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy," the BAS statement reads.

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The BAS calls out world leaders for their "insufficient response to climate change."

"Last year, the US government pursued unwise and ineffectual policies on climate change, following through on a promise to derail past US climate policies," the statement reads.

The Trump administration has placed climate change deniers in top positions, announced its plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and has dismantled climate and energy policy. The administration has ignored scientific fact and well-founded economic analyses, according to the statement.

These U.S. government climate decisions were made as extreme weather-related disasters occurred in 2017 following the globe's warming pattern becoming the warmest year on record without an El Niño event.

Extreme heat waves occurred in Australia, South America, Asia, Europe and California. This extreme heat resulted in one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in California history that subsequently caused deadly mudslides in surrounding areas. Cape Town may become the first major city in the world without water as the region plunges into deeper crisis as drought occurs in the region.

The Arctic ice cap achieved its smallest-ever winter maximum in 2017, the third year in a row that this record has been broken, according to the statement.

This year ranked among one of the most intense hurricane seasons ever recorded. The Caribbean region and other parts of North America suffered a season of historic damage from exceedingly powerful hurricanes.

Information pulled from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Timeline.

"The unfolding consequences of an altered climate are a harrowing testament to an undeniable reality: The science linking climate change to human activity—mainly the burning of fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—is sound," the statement reads.

Despite the sophisticated disinformation campaign run by climate deniers, evidence shows that the world continues to warm and that overall rates of sea level rise are accelerating, according to the statement.

"The Science and Security Board is deeply concerned about the loss of public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in facts themselves—a loss that the abuse of information technology has fostered," the statement reads.

Sophisticated hacking operations and the spread of disinformation have threatened democracy, which relies on an informed electorate to reach reasonable decisions on public policy, the statement reads.

The BAS reminds the public that the symbolic clock has the potential to shift away from midnight, as it has in the past.

"The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity's future is lamentable- but that failure can be reversed," the statement reads. "The clock has ticked away from midnight in the past."

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