Doomsday may be fast approaching – at least figuratively, according to the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
The Doomsday Clock, which acts as a symbolic indicator of “how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making,” on Tuesday was set to five minutes until midnight, according to the board, suggesting "the risk of civilization-threatening technological catastrophe remains high."
The board’s announcement was addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and members of the U.N. Security Council. Its members called on the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals, end their missile defense programs, and lower alert levels for nuclear weapons.
The board did point out some recent positive developments, including negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program and in the production of renewable energy, but affirmed that they came with a "business-as-usual" standpoint that has failed to shrink nuclear arsenals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"As always, new technologies hold the promise of doing great good, supplying new sources of clean energy, curing disease, and otherwise enhancing our lives. From experience, however, we also know that new technologies can be used to diminish humanity and destroy societies," the board wrote. "We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking."
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The Doomsday Clock was invented in 1947 by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a publication started by some of the researchers who worked on the atomic bomb. The clock has remained at five minutes until midnight since 2012. In 1991 it was set at 17 minutes until midnight – the longest since the clock’s inception. The board pointed to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia that reduced the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the two countries as the reason behind the world's stability at the time.
In 1953 the clock was set to two minutes before midnight -- the shortest since it was invented. The board cited the fact that the United States decided to make a hydrogen bomb and how the country decided to test its first thermonuclear device.
"The hands of the Clock of Doom have moved again," the board announced at the time. "Only a few more swings of the pendulum, and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilization."
In its latest announcement the board asked world leaders to take steps to protect the environment.
"The science on climate change is clear, and many people around the world already are suffering from destructive storms, water and food insecurity, and extreme temperatures," the board wrote. "It is no longer possible to prevent all climate change, but you can limit further suffering -- if you act now."