Some scientists say the world is, figuratively, two minutes away from the end.
Citing rising threats of nuclear war and a lack of world action against climate change, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has kept the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock as close to annihilation as it has ever been since 1953 at the height of the Cold War.
The hands now stand at 11:58 p.m., just two minutes away from midnight.
Each year the board of scientists, which includes 15 Nobel laureates, set the hands on the clock as a metaphor for how close they believe humanity is to annihilation.
The project was founded by a group of scientists who built the first atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project.
In what the scientists deem “a new abnormal,” the time to midnight actually remains the same as in 2017.
The Doomsday Clock was influenced by statements from an incoming U.S. president, Donald Trump, regarding the proliferation and the prospect of actually using nuclear weapons, as well as statements made in opposition to U.S. commitments regarding climate change.
“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,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
In the nuclear realm, the scientists pointed to decisions by the United States to abandon the Iran nuclear deal and announce it would withdraw from the intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The organization called these “grave steps towards a complete dismantlement of the global arms control process.”
And although the United States and North Korea moved away from missile tests and extreme rhetoric, the North Korean nuclear dilemma remains unresolved. Meanwhile, the world’s nuclear nations proceeded with programs of “nuclear modernization,” according to the scientists.
When it comes to climate change, global carbon dioxide emissions — which seemed to plateau earlier this decade — resumed an upward climb in 2017 and 2018.
“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,” Bronson said.
Along with these established threats, Herb Lin, senior research scholar for cyber-policy and security at Stanford University and board member, said an increase in cyber- and information warfare threatens a relative world peace that could erupt in nuclear war.
“Our leaders complain about fake news and invoke alternative facts when reality is inconvenient. They are shamelessly inconsistent,” Lin added. “And the internet and new media enable this corruption to be spread worldwide, attacking the rational discourse required for solving all of the complex problems facing humanity.”
Though the situation is dire, the Bulletin offers several steps world leaders can take to wind the clock back.
First, they warn, the U.S. and Russia should resume negotiations on the INF treaty, as well as work to create limits on nuclear weapon creation.
They also implore people to demand climate change action from their leaders, and encourage the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.
“There is nothing normal about the complex and frightening reality we are describing today,” Bronson said. “Though [the clock is] unchanged from 2018, this setting should be taken not as a sign of stability but as a stark warning to leaders and citizens around the world.”