The world is “three minutes” from doomsday.
That is the troubling viewpoint from board members of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Disappointed with a lack of global action to address climate change and shrink atomic arsenals, they chose today (Jan. 22) to push the minute hand of their famous “Doomsday Clock” to 11:57 p.m.
It’s the first time the clock hands have moved in 3 years; since 2012, the clock had been fixed at 5 minutes to emblematic doom, midnight.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists doesn’t utilize the clock to make any genuine doomsday forecasts. Rather, the clock is a visual symbol to caution people about how close the world is to a potentially civilization ending disaster. Every year, the magazine’s board examines to humankind’s survival to choose where the Doomsday Clock’s hands must be set.
Specialists on the board said they felt a feeling of direness this year because of the world’s continuing addiction on fossil fuels, dawdling with authorizing laws to cut greenhouse gas emanations and slow actions to dispose of atomic weapons.
Kennette Benedict, executive director of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said in a news conference this morning in Washington, D.C., “We are not saying it is too late to take action but the window for action is closing rapidly. We move the clock hand today to motivate action.”
Sivan Kartha, a senior researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute said, “If nothing is done to decrease the amount of high-trapping gases like CO2, in the environment, earth could be 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 8 degrees Celsius) hotter before the end of century.”
Some may not feel frightened when they see those numbers; they may usually encounter that sort of temperature swing in the course of a single day, Kartha said. However, he said a temperature increment of that magnitude was enough to bring the world out of the last ice age, and it will be sufficient to “fundamentally change” the Earth’s surface later on.
“Nuclear disarmament efforts have ‘ground to a halt’ and many nations are expanding, not scaling back, their nuclear capabilities. Russia is upgrading its nuclear program, India plans to expand its nuclear submarine fleet, and Pakistan has reportedly started operating a third plutonium reactor, Sharon Squassoni, another board member and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.
She said the United States has good oratory on atomic non-proliferation, yet in the meantime is in amidst of a $335 billion upgrade of its atomic system. (That figure appears to originate from a Congressional Budget Office report from December 2013.)
Made in 1947, the Doomsday Clock was initially a symbol of the risk of atomic war. In the interceding years, it now reflect the decreasing supplies of – and mankind’s expanding dependence on – fossil fuels, alongside the impact of environmental change, and other experimental revelations with potential for a severe impact on human life.
Initially, the time was set at 11:53pm, or 7 minutes to midnight. The most recent it has ever been was 11:58pm in 1953, when the US and Russia each tried atomic devices inside the space of nine months.
“The likelihood of worldwide calamity is high,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists conclude, “and the actions required to lessen the threats of catastrophe must be taken soon.”