The world is edging closer toward nuclear holocaust and environmental catastrophe, a prominent international group of scientists warned today, moving their symbolic Doomsday Clock ahead two minutes.
"It is now five minutes to midnight," said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. "This change reflects the global failures to solve the problems posed by nuclear weapons and by climate change."
In a joint news conference in London and Washington, D.C., the organization warned in a statement that the world stands "at the brink of a second nuclear age."
The symbolism of the move is significant because the organization, which includes more than a dozen Nobel laureates, has moved the clock only 18 times since it was set to seven minutes to midnight in 1947. The clock has been closer to midnight, two minutes away after the Eisenhower administration tested a nuclear bomb in 1953. But it is also a long way from its most optimistic setting, at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today's change was the first since 2002.
The organization cited North Korea's recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran's nuclear ambitions, a renewed emphasis on military uses and proliferation of nuclear weapons and the presence of 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. The organization added global warming to its concerns, saying in its statement, "the dangers of climate change are nearly as dire as those of nuclear weapons."
"As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change," Stephen Hawking, a renowned cosmologist, mathematician and professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, said in London.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, named for its newsletter, was founded in 1945 by scientists who worked in the Manhattan Project and were concerned about the prospect of nuclear war.
"No sane person would argue that the proliferation of nuclear weapons across more national borders would make the world a safer place, or that the renewal of nuclear testing or that the actual first use of nuclear weapons in battle is likely to be a good thing," said Lawrence M. Krauss, professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University.
"Nevertheless," he added, "the psychological barriers that have helped limit the potential for the use of nuclear weapons in this country and others seems to be breaking down."