Doomsday Clock moves its closest to midnight since height of Cold War

Thirty-second move forward reflects nuclear tensions, need for action on climate change

Citing growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers, the Doomsday Clock has been moved to two minutes before midnight—its closest point symbolically to total catastrophe since the height of the Cold War.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is located at the Harris School of Public Policy and whose board includes a number of UChicago scientists, announced during a Jan. 25 event in Washington, D.C. that the Doomsday Clock would move ahead 30 seconds. The last time the iconic symbol stood at two minutes to midnight was 1953, after the United States and the Soviet Union successfully tested hydrogen bombs.

“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” Bulletin officials wrote in a statement, noting that “hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions” between North Korea and the United States had increased the possibility of nuclear war. “On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now.”

Fueling nuclear concerns are a range of U.S.-Russian military entanglements, South China Sea tensions, escalating rhetoric between Pakistan and India, and uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal. Contributing to the risks of nuclear and non-nuclear clashes around the globe are the rise of nation-state information technology and internet-based campaigns attacking infrastructure and free elections, according to the statement.

“We hope this resetting of the clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger,” said Robert Rosner, the William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago, who chairs the Bulletin’s science and security board. “The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now.”

In January 2017, the Doomsday Clock edged forward 30 seconds, to two and half minutes before midnight. The statement also noted that in the past year that the United States “backed away from its longstanding leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges.”

The Bulletin was founded more than 70 years ago by Manhattan Project physicists, many of whom helped achieve the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction on Dec. 2, 1942 at the University of Chicago. The Bulletin engages science leaders, policymakers and the public on topics including nuclear risk, climate change and disruptive technologies.

—Adapted from a news release on The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ website.