Doomsday clock: Humanity closer to annihilation than ever before, scientists say

South Koreans walk past replicas of a North Korean Scud-B missile (C, back) and South Korean Nike missile (front) at the Korean War Memorial on February 28, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
South Koreans walk past replicas of a North Korean Scud-B missile (C, back) and South Korean Nike missile (front) at the Korean War Memorial on February 28, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Humanity is closer to annihilation than ever before, according to the scientists behind the “Doomsday Clock”​.

The time has moved to 100 seconds to midnight – much nearer to catastrophe than the scientists have set the clock in the more than 70 years it has been around. It had previously been set at two minutes to midnight, which was as close as it had ever been, and matched the danger during the depths of the Cold War.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the experts who set the time, said that the change reflected increasing concern about climate change, global warfare, misinformation and more. Those various dangers are combining with each other to endanger the world yet more, they said.

“Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers – nuclear war and climate change – that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond,” the experts wrote in their announcement.

“The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”

The experts said they had originally made the decision to move the clock in November, before the flare-up in tensions between the US and Iran. But they noted that those developments only served to confirm their view that the world was in more danger than ever before.

Ban Ki-moon, the former UN general-secretary who helped reveal the new time, wrote in The Independent that the change of time should serve as a “wake-up call for the world”.

“The decision to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock is backed by rigorous scientific scrutiny, and demands an equally rigorous multilateral response,” he wrote.

The Bulletin’s experts said that it would still be possible to move the clock’s hands away from midnight, if politicians managed to mitigate the risks threatening humanity.

“We have done it before, which means we can certainly do it again,” they wrote in their announcement. ”In 2020, however, world leaders have less time before midnight in which to make their decisions, and the need to take urgent action to reduce the risk of nuclear war and climate change is great.”

When the clock was set at two minutes to midnight, in 2018 and 2019, it was equal with the previous record set in 1953. But after that it moved far away from midnight, and reached 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, after the Cold War.

The Doomsday Clock has been maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists since 1947, and its time is announced each year. It is intended as a symbol of the threat that humanity faces and how close it is to catastrophe, taking in all of the scientific and technological threats that are posed to humanity.

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