Scientists May Be About To Wind The Doomsday Clock Forward To Its Most Critical Level Since The Height Of The Cold War

In 2002, Physics Nobel Prize winner Dr Leon M. Lederman had the honour. Picture: Getty Images

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) have declared they will make a “major announcement” when they meet Friday morning to decide whether to move the Doomsday Clock’s hands.

The Doomsday Clock is the BAS’s symbolic countdown to a possible global catastrophe. The group, which is advised by a board containing 18 Nobel Laureates, meets twice annually to discuss global events. In 1947, they launched the Doomsday Clock as a way to:

“…reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age”

When launched, it was an indication of how close the world was to a nuclear catastrophe, but it has been amended in modern times to also reflect climate change scenarios.

It doesn’t change every year; in fact, the group has only moved the minute hand four times this century.

The Crossroads Baker test in 1946 was cause for some concern. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

It started in 1947 at seven minutes to midnight, was at its lowest point in 1953 (11.58pm) when the US and Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices and blew out to 11.43pm in 1991 after the two superpowers signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

It’s most recent reset was in 2012, when the hand was pushed forward one minute to 11.55pm when scientists warned of the dangers of unsafe nuclear reactors following the Fukushima tsunami disaster.

There’s no guarantee the BAS will change the clock’s hands on Friday at 3am (AEDT), but it’s unusual for them to preface a meeting using the words “major announcement”. Indeed, they may even push the hand back a little.

But it’s unlikely. Key trends already discussed amongst the group which will influence Friday’s announcement include:

  • Evidence of accelerating climate change coupled with inadequate international action to greenhouse gas emission as conveyed in the November 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report
  • The recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Lima, Peru;
  • Nuclear modernization programs in the United States, Russia, and other states, and
  • The stalled reduction of nuclear warheads in Russian and US arsenals.

Basically, when it comes to events that the BAS believes sends humanity hurtling faster toward global catastrophe, 2014 had the lot.

The last time the clock read 11.56pm was in 1981, after US President Jimmy Carter pulled his country from the Olympic Games in Moscow following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

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