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The Doomsday Clock
Main Articles - Casualty by Man
June 09, 2007

The Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face maintained since 1947 by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It uses the analogy of the human race being at a time that is a 'few minutes to midnight' where midnight represents destruction by nuclear war.

doomsday clock picture

The clock was started at seven minutes to midnight during the Cold War in 1947, and has subsequently been moved forwards or backwards at intervals, depending on the state of the world and the prospects for nuclear war.

As of 2004, the clock is back at seven minutes to midnight, after recent deterioration in international relations. Each time nuclear conflict comes closer, it is moved forward, and vice versa. It has been moved 17 times.

Important events which have resulted in the changing of the clock include:
  • First testing by the Soviet Union of a thermonuclear device in 1949. Clock changed to three minutes to midnight.
  • United States and Soviet Union test thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another in 1953. Clock changed to two minutes to midnight.
  • United States and Soviet Union sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. Clock changed to twelve minutes to midnight.
  • United States and Soviet Union sign the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991. Clock changed to seventeen minutes to midnight.
  • Little progress on nuclear disarmament in 2002. United States rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces withdrawal from Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Terrorists seek to acquire nuclear weapons. Clock changed to seven minutes to midnight.
The current setting of the Doomsday Clock

Doomsday Clock Ticks Forward

By Raphael G. Satter
Associated Press
posted: 17 January 2007
11:40 am ET

LONDON (AP)—The world has nudged closer to a nuclear apocalypse and environmental disaster, a trans-Atlantic group of prominent scientists warned Wednesday, pushing the hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight.

It was the fourth time since the end of the Cold War that the clock has ticked forward, this time from 11:53 to 11:55, amid fears over what the scientists are describing as "a second nuclear age'' prompted largely by atomic standoffs with Iran and North Korea.

But the organization added that the "dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons.''

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 as a newsletter distributed among nuclear physicists concerned by the possibility of nuclear war, has since grown into an organization focused more generally on manmade threats to the survival of human civilization.

"As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth,'' said Stephen Hawking, the renowned cosmologist and mathematician.

"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.''

The bulletin's clock, which for 60 years has followed the rise and fall of nuclear tensions, would now also measure climate change, the bulletin's editor Mark Strauss told The Associated Press.

"There's a realization that we are changing our climate for the worse,'' he said, "That would have catastrophic effects. Although the threat is not as dire as that of nuclear weapons right now, in the long term we are looking at a serious threat.''

The threat of nuclear war, however, remains by far the organization's most pressing concern. "It's important to emphasize 50 of today's nuclear weapons could kill 200 million people,'' he said.

The decisions to move the clock is made by the bulletin's board, which is composed of prominent scientists and policy experts, in coordination with the group's sponsors.

Since it was set to seven minutes to midnight in 1947, the hand has been moved 18 times, including Wednesday's move.

It came closest to midnight—just two minutes away—in 1953, following the successful test of a hydrogen bomb by the United States. It has been as far away as 17 minutes, set there in 1991 following the demise of the Soviet Union.



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