As President Donald Trump enters his second year in office, The Doomsday Clock has inched closer to midnight. The clock, which measures how close mankind gets to oblivion, now rests the closest to midnight since 1954, according to NPR. Every year since 1947, a group called The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has examined developments in politics, energy, weapons, diplomacy, and climate science. They use those to determine how imminent the end of civilization appears. Here’s some of the most significant times the clock has moved, both backward and forward.
1991: 17 minutes to midnight
At the end of the Cold War, the clock ticked back to 17 minutes, the furthest it ever rested from the apocalypse. As The Bulletin explained, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty reduces the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the United States and Russia. Other moves to step back from nuclear war heartened the scientists. ”The illusion that tens of thousands of nuclear weapons are a guarantor of national security has been stripped away,” the Bulletin said.
Next: Terrorist concerns set it forward again during George W. Bush’s term.
2002: 7 minutes to midnight
When the clock first started in 1947, the scientists set it at 7 minutes to midnight. The clock ticked forward to 7 in 2002, after resting at 9 since 1998. After the September 11, 2001 attack, Bush’s actions gave the scientist’s pause. They also worried about worldwide stashes of nuclear-grade weapons. At the same time, the U.S. discussed building new weapons to root out terrorism. It also announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Next: The clock also moved optimistically in 2010.
2010: 6 minutes to midnight
The Bulletin moved the clock back from 5 minutes in 2007, given talks in progress between Russia and the U.S. for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It noted dangerous trends toward climate change, but light did exist in that area, too. The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference saw participating countries taking serious responsibility for the issue. The scientists saw this as heartening.
Next: The Cold War had a chilling effect on the measure.
1984: 3 minutes to midnight
The Cold War greatly affected the doomsday clock, as the scientists feared Russia and the U.S. posturing. “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. The space-based arms race especially concerned the panel. In general, nuclear arms in particular make the scientists nervous for our future.
Next: This event seriously concerned the scientists, for a number of reasons.
2017: 2 minutes and 30 seconds
The election of Donald Trump inched the doomsday clock closer to midnight in January, 2017. Previously, the clock sat at 3 minutes to annihilation. “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 wrote. It urged “wise public officials” to act, and if they declined to do so, called on “wise citizens” to step forward, instead. This likely came on the heels of Trump’s environmental, military, and energy policies.
Next: The last time the clock fell back that far happened decades ago.
1953: 2 minutes to midnight
In October 1952, the United States tested its first thermonuclear device and nine months later, the Soviet Union tested its own H-bomb. That sent the scientists into a sort of panic. “The hands of the Clock of Doom have moved again,” the Bulletin announced. “Only a few more swings of the pendulum, and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilization.”
Next: Midnight inched closer again this year, and one man had a lot to do with it.
2018: 2 minutes to midnight (again)
“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,” the Bulletin said in its annual report. The Scientific American points out that threats of nuclear war between Trump and Kim Jong Un contributed highly to the move. The speeding climate crisis keeps moving beyond our control. And in early January, Western generals also warned of looming war with Russia.
Next: Can we do anything to stop it?
Tomorrow: There is hope
The Bulletin did have some hopeful words for the world, though. It called on citizens to use social media to talk to officials, to “use the power of the internet to improve the long-term prospects of their children and grandchildren.” It asked for citizens to “insist on facts, and discount nonsense … [and] seize the opportunity to make a safer and saner world.”
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