Two years after the Manhattan Project, a group that called themselves the Chicago Atomic Scientists — who were involved in the development of the top-secret atomic program — created the Doomsday Clock, which is meant to symbolically convey to the public the risk of global catastrophe our civilization faces.
On Thursday, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced the minute hand of the legendary Doomsday Clock has a new home at two minutes and thirty seconds from midnight.
This is the closest it’s been to the top since the hydrogen bomb tests of 1953.
In a written statement entitled, “It’s two and a half minutes to midnight,” the group stated, “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists noted that the principal reasons for the increased risk were growing nationalism around the world, a more precarious global security situation, specific comments made by Donald Trump concerning nuclear expansion and a possible arms race with Russia, and an increasing failure to address the dangers of climate change.
While it may seem like a political tool, the original intention of the Clock was not to respond merely to changes in power.
Eugene Rabinowitch, a co-founder of The Bulletin, once commented:
“The Bulletin’s clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age…”
In 1947, when the clock first started running, it was set to seven minutes until midnight. Two years later, in 1949, it moved again when the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb.
In total, the clock’s hand has been adjusted twenty times, including in 1991 when it was moved 17 minutes from the top of the hour to denote the U.S. and Russia reducing their nuclear arsenals.
However, there has been a slow but inexorable downward trend since the 1990s, with the clock only moving up — or away from midnight — once since 1991.