The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced Thursday that the Doomsday Clock now stands at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, suggesting that existential threats now pose a greater danger to humanity than they have at any time since the height of the Cold War.
The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic warning about how close the world stands to “midnight,” that is, nuclear or existential catastrophe. Since 1947, the Bulletin’s scientists and security experts have updated it annually. Many of the world’s most acclaimed scientists—including Stephen Hawking, Susan Solomon, Lisa Randall, and Freeman Dyson—sponsor, oversee, or consult with the Bulletin.
“This is the closest to midnight the Doomsday Clock has ever been in the lifetime of almost everyone in this room. It’s been 64 years since it was closer,” said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University and the chair of the Bulletin’s board of sponsors.
The clock has edged closer to midnight only once before: In 1953, it was moved to two minutes to midnight after the United States and the Soviet Union both tested hydrogen bombs, kicking off the mid-century nuclear-arms race. It remained at two minutes to midnight for another seven years.
At a press conference two blocks from the White House on Thursday, the scientists of the Bulletin specified that they were taking the action out of specific concern for the words of two men: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Not in the 70-year history of the clock had rhetoric from so few individuals so affected the movement of the clock, they said.
“Nuclear rhetoric is now loose and destabilizing. We are more than ever impressed that words matter, words count,” Thomas Pickering, a longtime American diplomat who served as George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations and Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Russia, said at the press conference.