HYDE PARK — It’s barely a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, and scientists already are saying he’s pushing us closer to doomsday than the world has been in more than 50 years.
The University of Chicago-based journal Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on Thursday morning moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 2½ minutes to midnight, nearly the closest to midnight ever, and a message that the probability of worldwide catastrophe is very high.
The clock’s hands were moved because of the international community’s failure to come to grips with climate change and nuclear weapons, Thomas Pickering, former U.S. undersecretary of State for political affairs, and Pennsylvania State University professor David Titley, the former head of the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change, wrote in a New York Times column Thursday about the decision.
“Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts,” the pair wrote. “Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”
Though physically a cardboard clock devised on U. of C.’s campus, it has been a potent symbol of how reckless humanity has become since developing technology capable of wiping out the species.
The clock has only once been closer to midnight, the figurative doomsday, since it’s inception in 1947.
The clock’s hands stood at two minutes to midnight only once in 1953, when the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union was running unchecked and both countries were testing nuclear devices within months of each other.
The journal’s executive director and publisher, Rachel Bronson, said at a Thursday morning press conference live-streamed from Washington, D.C., that setting the clock’s hands felt especially urgent this year.
“As we marked the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, this year’s clock deliberations felt more urgent than usual […] as trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise and words were used by a president-elect of the United States in cavalier and often reckless ways to address the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change,” Bronson said.
The journal’s science and security board urged public officials to act immediately or for “wise citizens” to step forward and lead the way if public officials will not.
The journal provided a full rationale for its decision on its website.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.