The apocalypse is now as close as it has ever been, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, which on Thursday ticked 30 seconds closer to midnight ― the symbolic end of humanity.
The clock now stands ominously at 11:58 p.m., a time reached only once before in its seven-decade history, when fears surrounding the Cold War nuclear arms race surged in 1953. The academic journal, which covers global security, established the clock as a metaphorical tool to annually measure the world’s countdown to its final moment. It was first set at seven minutes to midnight in 1947.
In a statement released Thursday morning, the Bulletin identified three “obvious and imminent” dangers that caused the clock to swing forward by 30 seconds since its 2017 assessment:
- The untenable nuclear threat
- An insufficient response to climate change
- Emerging technologies and global risk
“The time change was mostly focused this time around on nuclear considerations,” John Mecklin, the Bulletin’s editor-in-chief, told HuffPost. “There’s a wide range of nuclear considerations, but North Korea and U.S.-Russia relations were significant factors in the decision.”
In the year since Donald Trump became president, he has engaged in an escalating row of taunts and threats with Kim Jong Un, leader of the nuclear-armed North Korean regime. Pyongyang, which has long been hostile to Americans, has made remarkable advances in its nuclear program in recent months. Trump responded by saying the U.S. would “totally destroy” the hermit kingdom, a nation of 25 million people, if provoked.
Last July, more than 120 nations adopted the first international treaty banning nuclear weapons. The U.S. and other nuclear powers were conspicuously absent from the negotiations.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention organized a public session on how to prepare for a nuclear detonation.
On a cautiously optimistic note, the Bulletin asserted that “the failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future is lamentable—but that failure can be reversed.”
Mecklin warned that leaders like Trump and Kim are not going to change their policies or behaviors without public pressure. “People really should take this seriously,” he said. “There are really concrete, practical things that can be done to lower the risk of a civilization-ending nuclear war.”
He is calling for significant changes to be made to the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which appears “likely to increase the types and roles of nuclear weapons in US defense plans and lower the threshold to nuclear use,” according to the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board.
“To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy,” the board said in its statement.
Among a list of suggestions, the board is also urging the U.S. to maintain diplomatic channels with North Korea and to abide by the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has repeatedly threatened to upend. The landmark agreement between Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the EU requires Tehran to rein in its nuclear program in exchange for relief from stifling economic sanctions.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, blamed “the actions and policies of the nuclear-armed states” for winding the Doomsday Clock toward midnight. “We have been lucky to avoid conflict through intentional or accidental means,” she said.
In response to the impending hypothetical apocalypse, Derek Johnson, the executive director of the Global Zero movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, foreshadowed a grim ultimatum.
“There are only two ways this story ends: We either find the wisdom and courage to urgently reduce and ultimately eliminate these weapons, or the clock strikes midnight in our lifetimes,” he said in a statement sent to HuffPost. “We are running out of time to decide which future we live to see.”