The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced via a live stream on the 25th of January 2018 that the Doomsday Clock is now at two minutes to midnight. This is the closest it has ever been - only once before holding the same position.
Links are there to add context over the cocncerns shown by the Bulletin.
The Bulletin was set up in 1947 by the group of scientists that worked on the infamous Manhattan Project. This project was responsible for the creation of the first ever nuclear weapons in 1945; two of which were dropped on Japan in the last stages of WWII. The Doomsday Clock was set up by the Bulletin to raise awareness about the dangers of such weapons - and all other threats to human survival. In its 70 years of existence the clock was at its furthest away from midnight in 1991 - following the collapse of USSR. This year the clock stands as close as its ever been.
The Doomsday Clock through history.
In a press release issued on their website the Bulletin explain what caused them to move the clock forward. Key among their factors was the news that, after a period of plateauing, levels of CO2 are once again on the rise. This was exacerbated by the US's intension to withdraw form the 2015 Paris Climate Accords and followed the news that the Arctic has had its smallest winter for the third time in a row.
Another key concern was how 'technological change is disrupting democracies around the world as states seek to exploit opportunities to use information technologies as weapons'. The Bulletin was specifically concerned with the erosion of institutions that were 'essential to free though and global security' - one need only look at the concern over Russian bots. Further concern was given about the increasing role that computers have over the financial system, the development of 'autonomous weaponry that make kill decisions without human supervision', as well as the 'possible misuse of advances in synthetic biology' thanks to the discovery of CRISPR gene editing.
However, by far the biggest reason for the new assessment was that 'major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race'. The Bulletin show particular unease over North Korea's 'remarkable progress in 2017' in developing Inter-Continental Bllistic Missiles, and the 'hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides' on this issue. The publication added to this list the continually growing nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan, uncertainty over the 'landmark Iranian nuclear deal', continual 'military exercises along the borders of NATO' in Europe, as well as growing tensions and deteriorating relations between the USA and the Peoples Republic of China over the South China Sea.
There was a common theme throughout the press release; that of Trump. Extracts pertaining the US president include:
'In the past year, US allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever. Instead, they have been forced to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from a US administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals, suffering from turnover in senior leadership, led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, and unable to develop, coordinate, and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy.'
'While President Trump has steadfastly opposed the agreement that his predecessor and US allies negotiated to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he has never successfully articulated practical alternatives.'
'The Trump administration, which includes avowed climate denialists in top positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, and other key agencies, has announced its plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. In its rush to dismantle rational climate and energy policy, the administration has ignored scientific fact and well-founded economic analyses.'
For all their pessimism, the Bulletin does propose solutions to the outlined issues. They ask that Trump refrain from 'provocative rhetoric' towards North Korea, that formal communication should be resumed with North Korea, that the US should once again endorse the Iran deal, that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty should be renegotiated, and that the nations of the world should do more than just comply with what was agreed in the Paris Accord.
Studies History with Politics at the University of Buckingham