Doomsday clock is now two minutes to midnight

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

The Doomsday clock, now on exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry rests at two minutes to midnight the closest that is has been since its creation in the 1940s. It is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a human-caused global catastrophe from a nuclear incident.

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have escalated over the last year, which has led some to believe that nuclear war is imminent.

President Donald Trump in his first year in office has repeatedly threatened North Korea regarding its growing nuclear weapons program. Last August, he said “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with the fire, and the fury like the world has never seen.”

“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 2018 Doomsday Clock statement,” which was founded by University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project as it was known produced the first nuclear weapons, and it was led by the United States with support from the United Kingdom and Canada.

The first atomic bomb exploded on July 16, 1945, at a site on the Alamogordo air base 120 miles south of Albuquerque, N.M. Two months later, two other bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project felt the weight of responsibility for what they created, so the Doomsday Clock was launched in response to the emergence of nuclear energy and scientists over time began to discuss climate change as well and the risks to humankind and the globe.

“The scientists and others recognized the profound nature of their work and wanted to make sure that the public was engaged, so they decided to create this symbol [Doomsday Clock] of urgency,” said Dr. Patricia Ward, director of science exhibitions and partnerships at the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Atomic Bulletin of Scientists meets yearly and weighs concerns that focus on nuclear risks, energy, climate change and emerging technology. The decision this year about the doomsday clock’s placement was announced last month.

“Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative reactions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation,” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 2018 statement.

Scientist this year also cited climate change as a cause of concern and as an issue that requires urgent attention “the nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.”

Other concerns outlined in the Atomic Scientists yearly statement include “a range of U.S.-Russian military entanglements, South China Sea tensions, escalating rhetoric between Pakistan and India, and uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal. Contributing to the risks of nuclear and non-nuclear clashes around the globe are the rise of nation-state information technology and internet-based campaigns attacking infrastructure and free elections.”

The 2018 statement also includes suggestions to move the clock back. Ward believes that more engagement with the public is one way to call attention to the issues addressed by scientists in this year’s statement. The public can reach out to their elected officials to draw attention to the problems.

MSI in partnership with The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists launched the exhibit “Turn Back the Clock” last May to examine the dawn of nuclear energy, the Doomsday clock, and current challenges facing the globe as new technologies develop and their potential impact.

“We help people to understand the backdrop of the story and the dawn of the nuclear age that gave rise to the doomsday clock,” Ward said in a previous article in the Herald. “Then we delve into how the clock has reacted over time and what are the events that either led it to move closer to midnight closer to the end of the world as we know it or further away.”

Guests can interact with a digital representation of the clock through time, learn how the atomic age extended into pop culture, and walk through a visual, historical timeline of the nuclear age and more.

“We as a global society have managed to keep ourselves safe through the strength of international cooperation. We’re all human beings there is power in that. Big things can happen when a lot of people have conversations about the same topic,” Ward said.

The exhibit is included in Museum Entry and will be open through May 2018.

t.hill@hpherald.com