Scientists: “Doomsday Clock” reflects grave threat to world

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Scientists behind a “Doomsday Clock” that measures the likelihood of a global cataclysm say the world is still under grave threat.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Tuesday that the minute hand on the metaphorical clock remained at three minutes-to-midnight. The clock reflects how vulnerable the world is to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and new technologies, with midnight symbolizing apocalypse.

“Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close,” the Bulletin said in a statement. “We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change.”

Lawrence Krauss, chair of the bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, said the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris climate accord were good news.

“Promising though it may be, the Paris climate agreement came toward the end of Earth’s warmest year on record, with the increase in global temperature over pre-industrial levels surpassing one degree Celsius,” the Bulletin’s statement said. It called out the U.S. Republican Party, “which stands alone in the world in failing to acknowledge even that human-caused climate change is a problem.”

Krauss said other causes for concern include that tensions between Russia and the U.S. have grown, and it is not clear the Paris accord will lead to concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientists behind the bulletin adjusted the clock from five minutes-to-midnight to three minutes-to-midnight last year, the closest to midnight it has been since the days of the Cold War in 1983. The closest to midnight that the clock ever got was in 1953, when it was set at 11:58 p.m. The world was safest in 1991, when the clock wound back to 11:43 p.m.

How can the clock move back? Krauss suggested that less spending on nuclear arms, a re-energized effort toward disarmament and engagement of North Korea could all help.

But the key was changing the thinking of political leaders — and humans in general.

Here’s the history of the clock:

With additional reporting from CNN.