Thomas Birch explains what the Doomsday Clock is and why it moved closer to midnight.
In case you haven’t heard, scientists moved the “Doomsday Clock” in the early hours of Friday morning (AEST) 30 seconds closer to midnight, from three minutes to two-and-a-half minutes.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to die. Well, not right now anyway (I hope).
So what does it mean? Chances are you’ve never heard of the Doomsday Clock until now. Let me break it down for you:
The Doomsday Clock was created 70 years ago by a group of scientists in response to nuclear threats. Since then the clock has become a symbol of how close we are to an apocalypse of our own making. Whether that be through nuclear weapons, our effect on climate change, or the growth of potentially harmful technologies such as biotechnology and cyber technology (think viruses or the advancement of military weapons and the rise of artificial intelligence). The closer the time is to midnight the more likely that doomsday will be upon us.
Since its creation, the Doomsday Clock was at its closest to midnight in 1953 when it stood at two minutes due to the United States and Russia testing hydrogen bombs, sparking a nuclear arms race. At its farthest, the clock read seventeen minutes to midnight in 1991 when the Cold War officially ended and nuclear threats diminished considerably. In 2015 the clock changed from five minutes to midnight to three minutes due to concerns over climate change and the modernisation of nuclear weapons.
The clock has remained unchanged since 2015. Until now.
The Doomsday Clock is now 30 seconds closer to midnight, from three minutes to two-and-a-half minutes. So why has it moved this time?
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the organisation responsible for making changes to the clock, cited disturbing comments made by Donald Trump regarding nuclear weapons, continued climate change concerns, wavering confidence in democratic institutions, and cyber offences as reasons for moving the clock closer to midnight.
The organisation had quite a bit to say about President Trump, mind you. Surprise, surprise.
“…President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as President-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways,” the organisation said in a statement.
“Even though he has just now taken office, the President’s intemperate statements, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse.”
This is the first time the clock has moved by less than a minute and the scientists attributed this to Trump’s short time in office.
“The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute – something it has never before done – reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days,
Many of his cabinet nominations are not yet confirmed by the Senate or installed in government, and he has had little time to take official action.” the organisation said.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also stated that “words matter” and cited “fake news” as a reason for concern.
“…trusted sources of information came under attack,” the organisation said.
“It is ever more important that senior leaders across the globe calm rather than stroke tensions that could lead to war, either by accident or miscalculation,” the organisation said in reference to Pakistan’s foreign minister tweeting about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities in response to a “fake news” story about Israel.
Executive Director and Publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Rachel Bronson, said she hoped that moving the clock closer to midnight would raise “the level of conversation” while promoting “calls to action” and help “citizens around the world hold their leaders responsible for delivering a safer and healthier planet”.
So there you have it. To put it simply, it seems quite reasonable to say that we can largely blame Donald Trump for our, suddenly closer, impending doomsday.
Fun fact: The Doomsday Clock is now the closest to midnight it has ever been in 64 years.
Start preparing your bunkers, people.