Doomsday clock: Humanity is still as close to catastrophe as it has ever been, scientists say

'Dire as the present may seem, there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future'

Andrew Griffin@_andrew_griffin
Thursday 24 January 2019 16:13
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Doomsday Clock remains at two minutes to midnight

Humanity is still as close to annhiliation as it has ever been, scientists have said.

The experts behind the famous "Doomsday Clock" have left the time at two minutes to midnight.

That time was chosen last year, reaching a record only rivalled in 1953, at the very depths of the Cold War.

The researchers stressed that the decision to keep the clock the same did not mean people should relax. In fact it reflects the "new abnormal" they said – a disturbing state of affairs where an unstable and unsettling state of affairs is becoming ordinary.

"Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention," the experts wrote. "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.

"There is nothing normal about the complex and frightening reality just described."

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which runs the Doomsday Clock, said that it recognised there were some reasons to be positive. The belligerent rhetoric between the US and North Korea that was a particular focus last year has calmed, they noted.

But they said that many other concerns – including the threat of cyber attack, continuing tensions between the US and Russia, and a lack of progress on climate change – meant that the world was under just as much threat as last year. In a number of areas, the world took significant steps back, including in Donald Trump's decision to drop out of a number of important nuclear deals.

"Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention," the scientists write. "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."

It concluded with a plea to the world to do what it can to push the hands back away from midnight and bring humanity back from the edge.

"Dire as the present may seem, there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future. The Bulletin resolutely believes that human beings can manage the dangers posed by the technology that humans create. Indeed, in the 1990s, leaders in the United States and the Soviet Union took bold action that made nuclear war markedly less likely—and that led the Bulletin to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock far from midnight," the Bulletin wrote.

"But threats must be acknowledged before they can be effectively confronted. The current situation—in which intersecting nuclear, climate, and information warfare threats all go insufficiently recognized and addressed, when they are not simply ignored or denied—is unsustainable. The longer world leaders and citizens carelessly inhabit this new and abnormal reality, the more likely the world is to experience catastrophe of historic proportions."

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