The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock – created in 1947 at the dawn of the nuclear age – was reset Thursday to three minutes till midnight by a group of scientists alarmed not just about nuclear weapons, but also climate change.
The move by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists places the symbolic clock to the same position it was in in 1983 when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were at their iciest, the scientists said.
The scientists reset the clock by two minutes, saying the proliferation of nuclear weapons and government spending on nuclear stockpiles continue, while the implementation of disarmament treaties between the United States and Russia have stalled.
At a news conference in Washington the group also said climate change figured into the decision to move the clock’s minute hand. They said it is also caused by human activity that is equally as threatening to life on Earth as nuclear weapons.
The scientists say urgent action is necessary and call on governments to take more drastic action on climate change, saying that it, like nuclear annihilation, is a threat that “looms over all of humanity.”
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, bringing World War II to an abrupt end.
The scientists, including some who had worked in the secret Manhattan Project to develop the bomb, used the countdown to midnight as the imagery for the threat of nuclear apocalypse.
The scientists meet every year to decide whether to move the minute hand. The last time they did so was January 2012 when the hand was moved from six minutes to five minutes to midnight. The group said then their decision was in response to increasing risks of nuclear and environmental disaster.
On Thursday they said the threat of climate change has been integrated into their Doomsday Clock message since 2007.
The scientists now consider climate change an “undeniable threat to the continued existence of humanity,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
World leaders have failed to act “with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe,” she said.
Sharon Squassoni, a member of the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said the threat posed by climate change had increased and at the same time the “gears in the machine of nuclear disarmament seem to be rusting.”
There is no movement toward follow-on agreements to disarmament treaties that came after the end of the Cold War, said Squassoni, adding that it was problematic that the two countries that have 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons – the United States and Russia – now find it difficult to talk to one another.
Sivan Kartha, another member of the board, acknowledged that some progress to blunt climate change has been made in the area of renewable energy, but even the most recent pledges to reduce carbon emissions are lower than they were five years ago.
Since it was created in 1947 the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted 18 times, ranging from two minutes before midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991.