Energy and Environment

What Does it Mean When the Doomsday Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight?

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The Doomsday Clock is ticking.

No, not literally. But on Thursday, a group of scientists moved the hands of the symbolic clock 30 seconds closer to midnight as a result of threats posed by climate change and President Donald Trump.

So what is this clock, if not an instrument used to tell time?

It was created in 1947 by scientists involved in the Manhattan Project–an effort led by the United States to develop atomic weapons during World War II–to warn people about potential disasters caused by nuclear war. The closer it is to midnight, the greater the possibility of an impending catastrophe.

The hands now sit at 2.5 minutes from midnight, the closest they have been since 1953, when they were moved to 2 minutes from midnight as a result of Russia and the United States testing hydrogen bombs during the Cold War.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which oversees the clock, said in a release that “world leaders have failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.”

Specifically, the Bulletin cited Trump’s “disturbing comments” about nuclear weapons, dismissal of climate change, and the rise of “strident nationalism” as factors that affected the decision to change the time.

A statement from the Bulletin’s Science and Security board referenced growing nuclear arsenals in North Korea and Russia, as well as in Pakistan and India where relations have been tense for decades. Although it praised the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal to limit nuclear programs in Iran, the board questioned how long the deal would last under Trump’s administration.

Additionally, the statement criticized the lack of progress made at the Marrakech Climate Change Conference, following the Paris Accord.

Another issue the board took into account was the risk posed by new, autonomous technologies, like self-driving cars. The scientists described a troubling hypothetical scenario in which such machinery could be used for weapons that  “make ‘kill’ decisions without human input or supervision.” The statement also warned of threats to democracy, like fake news and election hacking.

So how do we turn the clock back?

The board called upon leaders across the world, including Trump, to consider expert opinions and scientific evidence as they make decisions and create policies regarding the environment and use of nuclear weapons.

But it also urged average citizens to pressure their leaders, particularly on social media, to reduce nuclear arm programs, commit to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and consider the consequences of new technologies.

Victoria Sheridan
Victoria is an editorial intern at Law Street. She is a senior journalism major and French minor at George Washington University. She’s also an editor at GW’s student newspaper, The Hatchet. In her free time, she is either traveling or planning her next trip abroad. Contact Victoria at



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