Top Stories
Top Stories
World News

Doomsday Clock timekeepers say risk of global annihilation remains at Cold War highs

Key Points
  • The Doomsday Clock remains at two minutes to midnight, the symbolic hour of global destruction, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warns.
  • The bulletin left the Doomsday Clock unchanged from last year, saying lack of progress on nuclear and climate risks represents "the new abnormal."
  • Before 2018, the last time the Doomsday Clock struck two minutes to midnight was 1953, when the Soviet Union first tested the hydrogen bomb.
Members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists take their seats after moving their Doomsday clock 30 seconds closer to the end of the world January 25, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

The world remains perilously close to global catastrophe because leaders have not made enough progress in reducing nuclear and climate threats, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warns.

The group of scientists, analysts and researchers kept the hands on the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight on Thursday, the closest it has ever been to the symbolic moment of total annihilation. The bulletin said lack of progress on nuclear risk and climate change dangers represent "the new abnormal," and the chance of global destruction has been heightened by disinformation campaigns and fake news.

"Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention," the bulletin said in a statement.

"These major threats — nuclear weapons and climate change — were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger."

The bulletin has tracked the risk of nuclear apocalypse since 1947 and recognized climate change as an existential threat in 2007. The group set the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight last year, citing the North Korean nuclear crisis, the advance of global warming and the decline of U.S. diplomacy under President Donald Trump.

Before that, the Doomsday Clock last struck two minutes to midnight in 1953, the year the Soviet Union first tested the hydrogen bomb.

'Blindness and stupidity'

The bulletin acknowledges that the fiery rhetoric between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has cooled after their historic meeting last year. However, the group said that the underlying dilemma over North Korea's nuclear arms remains unresolved.

"The last summit meeting I thought had little or no substance, and did nothing to really move North Korea towards" giving up its nuclear weapons, William Perry, former U.S. Defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, said during a news conference.

"On the other hand — and it's a big other hand — it stopped the insults and threats between our two countries, between our two leaders and therefore reduced the chances of blundering into a war with North Korea."

The bulletin also sees setbacks in the Trump administration's withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord and its intention to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

The group said the modernization of arsenals currently underway in nuclear-armed states is "all but indistinguishable from a worldwide arms race."

"I can say at this moment, the blindness and stupidity of politicians and their consultants is truly shocking in the face of nuclear catastrophe and danger," former California Gov. Jerry Brown said at the news conference. "We're not expecting a bolt out of the blue, but based on the close calls of the past, we know that these thousands of nuclear weapons on high alert could be launched by mistake."

Failing 'dismally' on climate action

Also cause for major concern is the rise in planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 and 2018, following a brief period when emissions plateaued, the bulletin said.

"To halt the worst effects of climate change, the countries of the world must cut net worldwide carbon dioxide emissions to zero by well before the end of the century," the group said. "By such a measure, the world community failed dismally last year."

The bulletin warns that even those countries taking the most aggressive actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change and prevent further warming are not doing enough.

The situation has been made worse by the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the group said. It notes that Trump has dismissed dire climate assessments by U.S. agencies and his administration sided with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in withholding support for a landmark report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year.

"Even with all the evidence of our increasingly disrupted climate, denialists continue to avoid action," said Susan Solomon, professor of environmental studies at MIT. "President Trump spurned the National Climate Assessment prepared by his own agency and other scientists with an offhand statement of 'I don't believe it.'"

Information warfare increases risk

Nuclear and climate risks are only exacerbated by the increasing "corruption of the information ecosystem" on which modern civilization depends, the bulletin said.

Campaigns by nationalist leaders and their surrogates to spread misinformation, particularly online, are worsening social divisions and undermining confidence in science, elections and democratic institutions, the group said.

"It's a terrible world in which rage and fantasy replace logic and truth, and cyber-enabled information portends just such a world," said Herb Lin, senior research scholar for cyberpolicy and security at Stanford University.

"If it's left unchecked, it undermines our ability — the world's ability — to deal constructively with all of the threats facing us including especially those of nuclear weapons and climate change."