Doomsday Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight

Feature story - January 19, 2007
The spectre of a nuclear war 60 years ago was what created the "doomsday clock," the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists'(BAS) cold war chronometer. The closer the clock to midnight, the closer the world was creeping toward disaster. These days, the superpower polarisation of the world may be gone, but the threat of nuclear conflict remains. And added to that, a new doomsday force is moving the clock hands: global warming.

The 'Doomsday Clock' is now at 5 minutes to midnight. (Image: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

Over the six decades of existence, the clock has swung backwards andforwards between 17 minutes to midnight and as close as 2 minutes.

Witheach new nuclear threat, it ticked closer to twelve. With each new armsreduction treaty or weapons ban, it moved back from the brink. Now boththe resurgent threat of nuclear weapons and climate change have movedthe hands of the clock two minutes closer: to only 5 minutes away frommidnight, the figurative end of the world as we know it.

Withthe end of the cold war, the clock was at an historic 17 minutes awayfrom midnight in 1991. But since then is has moved steadily closer tomidnight with new nuclear threats and now with the addition of climatechange.

New nuclear threats are sending the clock back towardsthe dark days of the nuclear standoff between the US and USSR. Theseinclude the nuclear test which made North Korea an official member of the nuclear weapons club and the incorporation of nuclear weapons into strategic military planning for a possible US strike against Iran.

"Asscientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and theirdevastating effects, and we are learning how human activities andtechnologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may foreverchange life on Earth.

As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alertthe public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and tothe perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take actionnow to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climatechange."

Stephen Hawking, a BAS sponsor, professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of The Royal Society.

Addedto the increase in nuclear tensions is the acknowledgment that climatechange now represents a new threat that must be faced with the samedetermination as ending the possibility of nuclear war.

"TheDoomsday Clock can go backwards as well as forwards and a massiveuptake of renewable energy sources along with energy efficiency andconservation would help us tackle both the climate threat and thethreat of spreading dangerous nuclear technology around the world",said Steve Sawyer, Greenpeace climate campaigner.

To reduce thethreat of nuclear war requires all governments of the world to listento their citizens who overwhelmingly reject the use of nuclear weapons.As the world warms and severe weather becomes more frequent across manyparts of the world, the solutions to climate change are within thereach of everyone.

Einstein said that with the splitting ofthe atom everything changed except the way we think: the challenge nowis to change the way we act.

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