The Cable

Days Into Trump’s Presidency, The Doomsday Clock Ticks 30 Seconds Closer to Midnight

Make sure your bunker is stocked up on canned goods and ammunition.


The Doomsday Clock symbolizing how close the world is to destroying itself ticked a little closer to midnight on Thursday, inching to just two minutes, thirty second from the witching hour. That’s the closest it’s been to midnight in 64 years, when the United States first detonated a hydrogen bomb.

Experts from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the clock’s creator, said nuclear proliferation, unfettered climate change, and cyber threats impelled them to move the clock up 30 seconds from 3 minutes, where it had been since 2015. Of course, so did Donald Trump.

“Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person,” climate scientist David Titley and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, who both presented the Bulletin’s clock change on Thursday, wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the clock in 1947 at the dawn of the nuclear age to signal how close the world was to destroying itself, or “midnight” in the clock’s terms. It’s pretty simple: The closer to midnight, the closer to global disaster.

Bulletin experts also cited its “extreme concern” about Trump’s open skepticism on climate change. “Climate change should not be a partisan issue,” said Titley at the event. “Alternative facts will not make the reality of climate change magically go away,” he added. Former President Barack Obama called climate change the greatest threat to future generations.

The clock, an internationally recognized symbol, has veered from near-disaster to almost blasé. It bottomed out at a scary 2 to minutes to midnight in 1953 after the United States tested its first thermonuclear bomb. In 1991, after the end of the Cold War, the clock wound back to a breezy 17 minutes to midnight.

The Bulletin last moved the clock in 2015 from 5 minutes to 3 minutes to midnight, to reflect “failures of political leadership” to address unchecked climate change and inaction on curbing the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

Trump’s stance on nuclear weapons is hard to decipher given his wild veers between cautious and cavalier depending on the day of the week. He’s said the United States should expand its nuclear arsenal. But he’s also said he’ll be the last person to use nuclear weapons. But then he wants to be “unpredictable” with nuclear weapons. Also, that “nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.” Whatever that means.

On Wednesday, Trump said receiving the codes to the U.S. nuclear arsenal was a “sobering moment” in an interview with ABC News. “It’s very, very scary, in a sense,” he said, echoing the thoughts of billions of people, including a pair of U.S. lawmakers

Bulletin experts hope their warning gets through to Trump as he settles into the Oval Office. “It is a call on our part for sanity. For science. For realism,” Pickering said. “For, I hope, cogent and sensible leadership.”

Tick, tock.

Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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