Global uncertainty on how to deal with the threats of nuclear weapons and climate change have forced the “Doomsday clock” one minute closer to midnight, leading international scientists said on Tuesday.
“It is now five minutes to midnight,” said Allison Macfarlan, chair of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), which created the Doomsday clock in 1947 as a barometer of how close the world is to an apocalyptic end.
The previous decision by the group, which includes a host of Nobel Prize winning scientists, had moved the clock a minute further away from midnight in 2010 on hopes of global nuclear cooperation and the election of US President Barack Obama.
However, Tuesday’s decision pushes the clock back to the time where it was in 2007.
“It is clear that the change that appeared to be happening at the time is not happening, not materializing,” co-chair Lawrence Krauss said. “And faced today with the clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation, climate change and the continued challenge to find new and sustainable and safe sources of energy, business as usual reigns the norm among world leaders.”
The clock reached its most perilous point in 1953, at two minutes to midnight, after the US and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another.
It was a far-flung 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 after the two signed the long-stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and announced further unilateral cuts in tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.
Increasing nuclear tensions, refusal to engage in global action on climate change and a growing tendency to reject science when it comes to major world concerns were cited as key reasons for the latest tick on the clock.
The nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant also highlighted the volatility of relying on nuclear power in areas prone to natural disasters, scientists said.
Robert Socolow, a member of the BAS science and security board and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University, said a common theme emerged in the -scientists’ talks this year.
He cited a “worrisome trend, notably in the United States, but in many other countries, to reject or diminish the significance of what science says is the characteristic of a problem.”
However, the group said it was heartened by a large number of world protest movements, -including the Arab Spring, the global Occupy demonstrations and protests in Russia which show people are seeking a greater say in their future.