WASHINGTON – If the Doomsday Clock were to hit midnight, it would signify the end of the world.
Since 1947, when scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project established it, the clock has served as a symbolic countdown to global catastrophe. The closer to midnight the hand is, the bigger the threat of human extinction.
The clock’s position is the closest it has been to midnight since 1984, when U.S.-Soviet relations had the world on the brink of nuclear disaster. Only in 1953, when it was at two minutes to midnight, has the world been closer to doomsday, according to the board. That was the year the U.S. tested the hydrogen bomb.
At press conference Tuesday, four of the board’s 12 members analyzed civilization’s proximity to self-destruction and the reasons they found no progress since last year.
“Developments have been mixed since we moved the clock forward a year ago,” said Lawrence Krauss, director of the Arizona State University New Origins Initiative. “The major challenges the bulletin laid out for governments a year ago have not been addressed.”
Krauss listed several reasons why the problem of nuclear weapons remains largely unaddressed despite the recent progress in the Iran nuclear agreement. Increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia – both working on nuclear modernization – tensions between Pakistan and India, and North Korea’s nuclear tests are all major reasons for concern.
The world’s awareness of climate change is still in its infant stages and needs action. According to NASA and NOAA, 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 15 of the 16 warmest years recorded have occurred since the year 2000.
“There is no question that marked climate change is underway,” said Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute. “This undeniable trend underscores the continued inadequacy if efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.”
Although Kartha called the Paris Climate Conference results, in which nearly 200 countries pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, a win toward addressing climate change, he said the emission reduction pledges were still inadequate.
For the clock hand to be moved backward next year, the board called for six issues to be addressed. The reduction of spending on nuclear modernization programs, the re-energizing of disarmament process, and reducing North Korea’s nuclear activity are at the top of the list. Following up on the Paris agreement and making sure it is fulfilled, addressing commercial nuclear waste and the potential catastrophic consequences due to the misuse of new technologies round out the list.
“The decision to not move the hands of the doomsday clock in 2016 is not good news,” Krauss said. “But an expression of grave concern that the situation remains largely the same.”
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