The Bulletin created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 "using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet." Each year the distinguished scientists of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board decide whether or not to move the minute hands of the Doomsday Clock.
This year's decision considered many factors, and nuclear weapons figure prominently in it. The optimism that came with the end of the Cold War has disappeared due to two principal factors - "nuclear weapons modernization programs and nuclear disarmament machinery that has ground to a halt." The world is on the brink of a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.
The announcement begins with this:
In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.
In 1984, as the United States began a major defense build-up that included the pursuit of a potentially destabilizing ballistic missile defense system, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union reached an icy nadir. "Every channel of communications has been constricted or shut down; every form of contact has been attenuated or cut off. And arms control negotiations have been reduced to a species of propaganda," the Bulletin wrote then, in explaining why the hands of the Doomsday Clock had been moved to three minutes to midnight, the closest they had been to catastrophe since the early days of above-ground hydrogen bomb testing.
Today, more than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board have looked closely at the world situation and found it highly threatening to humanity—so threatening that the hands of the Doomsday Clock must once again be set at three minutes to midnight, two minutes closer to catastrophe than in 2014.Today's announcement focuses on the current and potential risks posed to humanity by nuclear weapons, climate change and emerging technologies. These risks, when combined, pose extraordinary challenges to the very survival of humanity, and it is the "stunning governmental failures [that] have imperiled civilization on a global scale." The scientists of the Bulletin make it clear that time is short, and that we as citizens must demand that our nations' leaders take action before it is too late.
Here is how the announcement wraps it up:
The threat is serious, the time short. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists does not move the hands of the Doomsday Clock for light or transient reasons. The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.
During the past several years, the Bulletin's Science and Security Board has grown increasingly concerned as world political leaders dithered, leaving an undeniable threat to the future of mankind—climate change—largely unaddressed. In 2014, leaders in the nuclear weapons countries have consented to a mad dash down an expensive and dangerous path toward "modernizing" their nuclear arsenals; in the process, they turned away from reasonable disarmament efforts and allowed an economic dispute between Ukraine and Russia to turn into an East-West confrontation that hinders cooperation on worldwide nuclear security, arms control, and nonproliferation.
These stunning governmental failures have imperiled civilization on a global scale, and so we, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, implore the citizens of the world to speak clearly, demanding that their leaders:
- Take actions that would cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The 2-degree target is consistent with consensus views on climate science and is eminently achievable and economically viable—if national leaders show more interest in protecting their citizens than in serving the economic interests of the fossil fuel industry.
- Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs. The United States and Russia have hatched plans to essentially rebuild their entire nuclear triads in coming decades, and other nuclear weapons countries are following suit. The projected costs of these "improvements" to nuclear arsenals are indefensible, and they undermine the global disarmament regime.
- Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results. The United States and Russia, in particular, need to start negotiations on shrinking their strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals. The world can be more secure with much, much smaller nuclear arsenals than now exist—if political leaders are truly interested in protecting their citizens from harm.
- Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem. Reasonable people can disagree on whether an expansion of nuclear-powered electricity generation should be a major component of the effort to limit climate change. Regardless of the future course of the worldwide nuclear power industry, there will be a need for safe and secure interim and permanent nuclear waste storage facilities.
- Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies. Scientific advance can provide society with great benefits, but the potential for misuse of potent new technologies is real, unless government, scientific, and business leaders take appropriate steps to explore and address possible devastating consequences of those technologies early in their development.
Last year, with the Doomsday Clock at five minutes to midnight, the members of the Science and Security Board concluded their assessment of the world security situation by writing: "We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking."
In 2015, with the Clock hand moved forward to three minutes to midnight, the board feels compelled to add, with a sense of great urgency: "The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon."The scientists of the Bulletin have provided the blueprint for moving ahead. They have also made clear what many of us have been saying for years - that governments will not take the necessary steps unless we, as global citizens, demand it of them. They have, for far too long, been locked in the grip of massive corporate machines that serve only their own interests. It is high time that those who govern begin the work of "ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization."
The people who make the decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock ahead do not do so lightly. These are scientists, not alarmists. They employed sound, scientific reasoning to reach their decision, and we must listen and understand the gravity of the situation. As they concluded, "The probability of global catastrophe is very high," and the consequences to humanity would be unacceptable. We must take action, and we must take it now.
Each of us needs to stand up and pressure our government to take action on the issues raised by the Bulletin. Send a copy of the Bulletin's announcement to President Obama, your representatives in Congress, and anyone else you think should read it. Ask them to read it and reply to you, explaining how they plan to respond to the Bulletin's call to action. Do not settle for anything less than a full commitment to action.
We cannot turn back the hands of time, and we certainly cannot undo the damage we have already done. We can, however, make the difficult, yet critical, choices that will provide a livable world for future generations, and thereby turn back the hands of the Doomsday Clock.
Time is short, and "the clock is ticking."
Click here to read the full text of today's announcement.
Click here to watch today's announcement and press conference.