Nuclear rivalries and the danger of climate change have moved the Doomsday Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight, meaning the world is just 100 seconds away from complete destruction — metaphorically at least.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced the new timeline Thursday in Washington. The 2020 time is the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were testing hydrogen bombs in the depths of the Cold War.
Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin, cited the worsening nuclear and climate crises as causes to inch the time forward. “World leaders have helped create a situation … in favor of their own narrow interests and domestic political gain,” she argued.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris global climate accord and the Iranian nuclear deal as major factors in the revision.
The announcement comes after a year of heightened tensions in the Middle East, challenges to major nuclear accords, continued competition with China and Russia, and devastating natural disasters around the world. The decision to move up the time was made before a new round of U.S.-Iranian conflict — including the killing of a top Iranian general and a retaliatory strike by Tehran on U.S. troops in Iraq — sent tensions soaring across the Middle East.
The Doomsday Clock was conceived as a way to warn the public “about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making,” the group said on its website. “It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.”
The farthest the Doomsday Clock has been from midnight since it was created nearly 75 years ago was at the end of the Cold War, when the hands were reset to 17 minutes from midnight.
The heightened peril of global annihilation has been met with some skepticism from analysts who questioned whether a nuclear war is truly closer today than in past crises such as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
“I do worry about inadvertent escalation in modern conventional conflict. But the nuke risks of today are much less severe than in Cold War,” tweeted Eric Gomez, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute. Other Twitter users repeatedly joked that the Clock’s overseers had simply forgotten to adjust for daylight-saving time.
But Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, said in a statement following the announcement that “every decision our government makes should move us further from nuclear war, and yet this administration has made decisions that make nuclear war more accessible and total destruction more likely.
Mr. Lieu, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that the U.S. should ban low-yield nuclear weapons and prevent the president from having the ability to launch a nuclear strike without Congressional approval.
House Democrats pushed to include language in the massive 2020 defense policy bill to ban the use and further production of low-yield nuclear weapons, but the efforts were shot down by Republicans in both chambers.
Despite the specter of a looming apocalypse, the Doomsday Clock has set further from midnight on several occasions — the last time in 2010 when the clock pushed back one minute after the U.S. and Russia engaged in nuclear arms negotiations and the U.S. and China had jointly agreed to reduce carbon emissions.
But the Bulletin warned Thursday that “the world has entered into the realm of a two-minute warning.”
“We now face a true emergency — an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay. … Every second matters.”