The end of the world just got about 30 seconds closer.
Since 1947, the symbolic Doomsday Clock has represented how close the world is to a worldwide catastrophe. Last Thursday, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the clock to just two and a half minutes to midnight, on the clock’s 70th anniversary.
At the time of its inception, the clock mainly stood for the threat of nuclear conflict or nuclear disaster, but in the past ten years, the Bulletin has also taken other factors into account that they claim have the ‘potential to destroy the planet.’ These include the threat of global climate change, biotechnology and emerging military technologies.
Each year, the group of scientists publishes a magazine detailing these threats and possible solutions. “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon,” the Security Board wrote for this year’s issue.
The current time is the “latest” it’s been since 1953; that’s more than 60 years since the United States and the Soviet Union conducted several live nuclear tests, when the clock was reset to just two minutes. The time furthest away from disaster ever shown on the clock was 17 minutes to midnight when, in 1991, the U.S and Russia signed landmark arms reduction treaties.
Edward Inman III, a part-time professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, gave his opinion on Rhode Island’s unique position under a threat of nuclear war. He cautioned that during the 1950s until the 1970s Rhode Island had multiple Nike anti-aircraft defense missile sites, presumably because of its coastal location and for defending the capital city.
“Rhode Island is a [nuclear] target because we are closely located to Boston, to New York City, and generally as a part of the eastern seaboard with a high population density… in the event of a nuclear attack, we’re ‘in it’ – if it in fact happens,” he said. “We have to think about the unthinkable and that’s why we have civil defense systems … folks need to be thinking about these kinds of things.”
Inman also explained that the threat of terrorism, dangerous technology and some current events like recent appointments in the Trump administration and potential environmental deregulation have likely all been contributing factors to the threat represented by the Doomsday Clock.
“The overriding fear I walk around with is human error in this–a nuclear attack [between world powers] is mutual destruction–but a rogue nation or a rogue individual trying to elicit fear in the world, that’s where these things can be frightening,” he said.