In 1945 under the name of the Manhattan Project, well known scientists such as Robert Oppenheimer and, at an earlier time even Albert Einstein, helped form the first nuclear weapons in existence. At the time they said of their work, they “could not remain aloof to the consequences” as to what they were doing. So they initiated something called the Doomsday Clock.
A group of scientists and academics that have come together ever since to alert the public to the dangers of nuclear war and other existential threats. Not an actual clock that sits in a town square but more of an existential clock that is looked over by science leaders, policy makers, renewed every year to match the the emerging threats the world faces.
They are an independent nonprofit organisation constantly assessing scientific advancements that involve both benefits and risks to humanity, with the goal of influencing public policy to protect our planet and all its inhabitants. Everyone from well known string theorist Brian Greene to theoretic physicist Stephen Hawking sits on its board of sponsors.
The clock at the beginning of 2017 had been moved to “two and a half minutes to midnight.” but since North Korea recently conducted several nuclear weapons tests, it looks to be stuck there for some time now until this chest-beating showdown passes. It is the closest it’s been since 1984 which was at three minutes with the threat of a Cold War with Russia.
All of this indicates that through a dangerous cocktail of political conflicts and environmental calamities, the world is facing dire threats to its existence. The decision to move the minute hand forward is also due to further doubts about the Iran nuclear deal, threats by the new Trump administration, and disputes in Syria and Ukraine.
Right now, there are believed to be around 16,000 nuclear bombs in existence, spread through mainly nine nations including the United States and the UK. However the nuclear non proliferation treaty has always been an international treaty that many countries have looked to responsibly abide by.
We spoke to Professor of Physics at Harvard University Lisa Randall, one of its board member sponsors, recently about the work of the Doomsday Clock and what it means: “I do think were at a stage where unfortunately I think a lot of people have forgotten what the consequences of nuclear devices can be and are a little more cavalier in discussing them, it’s a dangerous situation. Before the election, I was joking with people about nuclear weapons and the fact that you have to think people will use them or else they are not a deterrent but now its getting scarily close to that.”
Let us remind you that it’s not always doom and gloom, we only have to recall that the clock was at 2 minutes in 1953, but moved all the way back to 17 minutes in 1991. So there’s always a chance to alleviate situations through diplomatic means and skillful strategic foreign policy.