The Doomsday Clock is now the closest it’s been to midnight since the worst years of the Cold War

Hopefully not.
Hopefully not.
Image: AP Photo/Los Alamos National Laboratory
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This is an article from 2018. Read our most recent coverage of the Doomsday Clock: In 2022, the Doomsday Clock didn’t change for the second year running

Good morning! In case you don’t have enough to worry about today, here’s a bit of news about the likelihood of our impending doom.

The editors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists convened today, Jan. 25, to move the hand on its “Doomsday Clock” to two minutes to midnight. It’s a symbolic clock that represents how close this group of scientists, which have been gathering since 1947, believe humanity is to destroying itself.

This item is about the 2018 update to the Doomsday Clock. In 2021, the Doomsday Clock remained at 100 seconds to midnight.

Image for article titled The Doomsday Clock is now the closest it’s been to midnight since the worst years of the Cold War
Image: Quartz/David Yanofsky

Last year at about this time, days after Donald Trump was sworn in as US president, the group moved the hand to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the closest it had been to midnight since 1953, when the US and the Soviet Union were both testing hydrogen bombs. That was in the crises and escalation phase of the Cold War, when classrooms across the US routinely had nuclear missile drills and people were building survival bunkers in their backyards.

Today, the group moved the clock up another half-minute, bringing it to 11:58, the same as it was in 1953. The scientists’ reasoning was because of “hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions” from both Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, threatening nuclear attacks, and in the case of North Korea, continuing to test ballistic missiles.

The group also weighed other nuclear threats, including the US-Russian entanglements, rising tensions in the South China Sea between China and Japan, and political strain between Pakistan and India. The US’s standing as the world’s leader has deteriorated under the Trump administration, the group added, which has led to a “breakdown in the international order.”

Another pressing concern has been the US’s backing away from the Paris climate agreement, and Trump “putting avowed climate denialists in top cabinet positions,” the group added. “2017 just clocked in as the hottest year on record that wasn’t boosted by an El Nino,” Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists member, added in a release. “While this was happening, the Trump administration dutifully carried through on the campaign promise of derailing US climate policy.”

The group called for Trump to back down from his warlike posturing against Kim, to meet with Russian leaders, and for US citizens to call for “climate action from their government.”

In the past year, US allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever,” Sharon Squassoni, a professor at George Washington University and Bulletin member, said in the release. “Instead, they have been forced to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from a US administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals, suffering from turnover in senior leadership, led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, and unable to develop, coordinate, and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy.

“This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management, and global stability,” she added. “It has made the existing nuclear risks greater than necessary and added to their complexity.”