If you, like me, have been so worn down by the terrifying yet inescapable news cycle that you’d probably just shrug and eat a taco if someone told you the apocalypse was literally two minutes away, then you might not get much out of this news item. But for more well-adjusted folks, it might cause some mild distress. That’s because today, scientists in charge of the symbolic Doomsday Clock announced that we are just two symbolic minutes away from a total global catastrophe. Increasing worries over nuclear weapons and climate change are the main reasons scientists have decided to move the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight, the symbolic hour of the apocalypse.
The Doomsday Clock is presided over by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a non-profit group that was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first nuclear weapons. Presumably out of guilt due to the threat they had unleashed on the world, they called on the destructive connotations of nuclear war and the apocalypse to come up with a countdown clock that would mark the time until the end of the world. The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is to total existential disaster.
"We've made the clear statement that we feel the world is getting more dangerous," said Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors and director of Arizona State University's Origins Project. "The danger of nuclear conflagration is not the only reason the clock has been moved forward."
Scientists have good reason to make such a dramatic statement. “In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” the Bulletin said in a statement. North Korea presents the most serious nuclear threat to the countries in the region, as well as United States, but that’s not all. “Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation,” the statement read. That’s scientist code for "Donald Trump needs to stop tweeting and go to a geopolitics class (or at least learn some manners)."
The clock also ticked forward last year, and for largely the same reasons as this year: Trump’s campaign rhetoric and climate change. But this year we are even closer—thirty seconds closer, to be exact—to the end, perhaps confirming that we've failed yet again to adequately address the world’s most pressing issues. For reference, the farthest away the clock has been was 17 minutes from midnight back in 1991, just at the end of the Cold War. Today, the clock is the closest it has ever been to midnight—but it has been at two to twelve once before, in 1953, when the hydrogen bomb was first tested.
“Last year, the Clock ticked forward largely in response to candidate Trump’s alarming campaign rhetoric. But the reality of a nuclear-armed President Trump running loose in the world is worse than we feared, and that is clearly a central factor in this decision," said Derek Johnson, the executive director of Global Zero, a group aiming to eliminate nuclear weapons.
"Today’s Doomsday Clock announcement must serve as an urgent wake-up call—and could be the last one we get," said Johnson.
You can watch the full announcement, complete with ominous, end-of-the-world-type music, below.