‘Doomsday Clock’ moves one minute away from midnight

15 Jan 2010

Greater efforts to address climate change and reduce nuclear arsenals worldwide has encouraged the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) to move the minute hand of its famous Doomsday Clock one minute away from midnight. It is now six minutes to midnight.

The decision by the BAS Science and Security Board was made in consultation with the bulletin’s board of sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel laureates, and was based on their belief that for the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapon countries are co-operating to reduce their arsenals.

The new BAS web platform allows people in all nations to monitor and get involved in efforts to move the Doomsday Clock farther away from midnight.

BAS statement

In a statement supporting the decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock, the BAS board said: “It is six minutes to midnight. We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons. For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are co-operating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material.

“And for the first time ever, industrialised and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable. These unprecedented steps are signs of a growing political will to tackle the two gravest threats to civilisation — the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change.”

Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted only 18 times prior to today, most recently in January 2007 and February 2002 after the events of 9/11.

Symbolic of progress

By moving the hand of the clock away from midnight — the figurative end of civilisation — the BAS board of directors is drawing attention to encouraging signs of progress. At the same time, the small increment of the change reflects both the threats that remain around the globe and the danger that governments may fail to deliver on pledged actions on reducing nuclear weapons and mitigating climate change.

The BAS statement explains: “This hopeful state of world affairs leads the boards of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists … to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back from five to six minutes to midnight. By shifting the hand back from midnight by only one additional minute, we emphasise how much needs to be accomplished, while at the same time recognising signs of collaboration among the United States, Russia, the European Union, India, China, Brazil, and others on nuclear security and on climate stabilisation.”

The statement continues: “A key to the new era of co-operation is a change in the US government’s orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of (President Barack) Obama.

“With a more pragmatic, problem-solving approach, not only has Obama initiated new arms reduction talks with Russia, he has started negotiations with Iran to close its nuclear enrichment program, and directed the U.S. government to lead a global effort to secure loose fissile material in four years.

“He also presided over the UN Security Council last September, where he supported a fissile material cut-off treaty and encouraged all countries to live up to their disarmament and non-proliferation obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty …”

An issue for everyone

Lawrence Krauss, co-chair, BAS board of sponsors, foundation professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics departments, associate director, Beyond Centre, co-director, Cosmology Initiative, and director, New Origins Initiative, Arizona State University, said: “The time to begin to free ourselves from the terror of nuclear weapons and to slow drastic changes to our shared global environment is now.

“We encourage scientists to fulfil their dual responsibilities of increasing their own, as well as the public’s understanding of these issues and to help lead the call to action. We urge leaders to fulfil the promise of a nuclear weapon-free world and to act now to slow the pace of climate change.

“Finally, we call on citizens everywhere to raise their voices and compel public action for a safer world now and for future generations. Even though we are encouraged by recent developments, we are mindful of the fact that the clock is ticking.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: The ‘Doomsday Clock’

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years