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Two minutes to midnight

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves Doomsday Clock closer to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock to 2.5 minutes to midnight on Jan. 26.

The clock began ticking in 1947 as a metaphorical measurement of how close humanity is to destroying civilization. 

The clock was established by scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project, a secret US military project that launched in 1942 to produce the first nuclear weapon.

Currently, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists collaborates to set the time of the clock each year based on the contemporary issues that are affecting the likelihood of nuclear war.

“The beauty of the Doomsday Clock is that it’s so easy to understand. It’s so simple but based on so many layers of expertise,” said Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

“For us, the goal isn’t to generate panic. We see it as a motivator.”

Bronson never expected to see the clock this close to midnight.

Several factors led to the clock moving closer to midnight, including climate change denial by political powers, and the increasing talk of creating more nuclear weapons.

Historically, the clock has only moved by the minute. 2017 marks a change in moving the clock forward 30 seconds.

“It’s easy to understand, regardless of what age you are,” said Bronson, who has served as executive director for two years.

“What we know is that younger people are engaging with it.”

Over 70 per cent of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists readers are younger than 45.

“We were very concerned with how careless the language was and the rhetoric around nuclear weapons,” said Bronson

“The lack of reliance on expertise to make some really difficult decisions around climate change and national security [is also a concern].”

The clock has made it clear that over 2016, global security has been compromised because the international community has failed to acknowledge the threats of nuclear weapons and climate change.

“I do think there is a lot Canada can do by keeping issues alive that the [US] administration chooses to bury,” said Bronson.

“There are things as individuals that we can [do to] push our leaders, and often leaders are pushed to do the right thing, which we’ve seen with the history of the clock.” 

The clock was originally based around the threat of nuclear war, but has come to include other threats such as cyberthreats, climate change and biological weapons.

“I think outrage is great, but I don’t want people to become depressed,” said Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford, a doctor involved with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

“This is something that we are going to succeed in.”

In the 1980s, Canada took a leadership role in calls for nuclear disarmament.

“Canada was a really central figure at that time, and we should be there again,” said Ashford.

The clock was last moved in 2015, bringing humanity three minutes to midnight.

The closest the clock has been to midnight was in 1953. At two minutes, the move was informed by the first detonation of a thermonuclear bomb by the U.S. and hydrogen bomb testing by the Soviet Union.

The farthest the clock has been was seventeen minutes to midnight in 1991, a change largely brought on by the end of the cold war and nuclear disarmament. 

“It’s the closest it has been to midnight since the Cold War. That makes me worry,” said Casey Bellafont, a second-year SAIT electrician student.

“Canada is 30 million people. We’re small, our impact is so little. 

“Because of our size, it is difficult to affect change on nuclear war and climate change.” 

Scientists also cited concerns over technology, including advancements in biotechnology and artificial intelligence in moving the clock forwards.

“It’s inevitable having [stuff] hit the fan,” said Sultan Alharbi, a first-year business administration student.

“It’s nuclear war, what can you do to help? Nothing.

“Just hope for the best.”

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