The Doomsday Clock has moved closer to midnight than it has been at any time since 1984, meaning that the world continues to move toward nuclear destruction.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board maintains the clock. The group, which according to its website was "founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project," moves the clock closer to midnight or back away from midnight depending upon world events. The last time the clock was moved was three years ago, when it went from six minutes to midnight to five minutes.


According to a statement from the Board of directors, "In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth."

It is now three minutes to midnight.

The clock was set at seven minutes to midnight when it was unveiled in 1947. At the time, the group noted the clock "symbolizes the urgency of the nuclear dangers that the magazine's founders -- and the broader scientific community -- are trying to convey to the public and political leaders around the world."

The closest the clock came to midnight was in 1953, when it was moved from three minutes to two minutes. At the time, the group said decisions by the U.S. and Soviet Union to pursue the hydrogen bomb prompted the change.

The farthest the hands on the clock moved away from midnight was in 1991. "With the Cold War officially over, the United States and Russia begin making deep cuts to their nuclear arsenals," the group noted when it moved the hands of the clock to 17 minutes to midnight. "The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty greatly reduces the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed by the two former adversaries. Better still, a series of unilateral initiatives remove most of the intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers in both countries from hair-trigger alert. The illusion that tens of thousands of nuclear weapons are a guarantor of national security has been stripped away."

In the following years, as the U.S. and Russia failed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, the clock moved closer to midnight. Nuclear tests in India and Pakistan contributed to the clock moving to nine minutes before midnight in 1998.

The terrorist attacks of 2001 brought a new threat, and with that threat the group moved the clock to seven minutes before midnight in 2002. "Concerns regarding a nuclear terrorist attack underscore the enormous amount of unsecured -- and sometimes unaccounted for -- weapon-grade nuclear materials located throughout the world," the group wrote.

It is disheartening that the U.S. and Russia cannot come to agreement on reducing their nuclear arsenals. The threat of some terror group getting its hands on a nuclear weapon is real, and there is no telling the amount of destruction that could be unleashed on the world if that happened.


In 2007, when the group moved the hands of the clock to five minutes before midnight, it noted climate change for the first time as a contributing factor.

"Climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity," the group notes. "Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property."

The biggest threat is all the nuclear weapons in the world, and the very real possibility that sooner or later some fringe terrorist group is going to get their hands on one. They are literally ticking time bombs.

Figurative ticking time bombs are the impacts of climate change – severe weather, rising sea levels. It won't be long until some nation, devoid of clean water, decides it needs to take over its neighbor just so its people can survive.

People seem to be able to wrap their heads around the real danger of nuclear bombs getting into the wrong hands, but are less able to comprehend what could happen if we don't protect our planet and our limited resources.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn't matter, because governments have been unable to get rid of excess, outdated nuclear weapons for decades. There's no reason to think they will ever get around to taking environmental threats seriously. But then, there is no rush. We still have three minutes.


Jim Lee is the Carroll County Times' Editor. Email him at jim.lee@carrollcountytimes.com.