Bulletin cites ongoing threats from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists held the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight for the second year in a row during its 2024 annual announcement on January 23rd. The clock is a symbolic measurement of how close humanity is to catastrophe, with midnight representing doomsday.
90 seconds to midnight is the closest the clock has ever been set to catastrophe. The Bulletin cited the unabated threats from nuclear weapons, climate change, escalating global tensions, and the spread of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence as key factors in maintaining this dangerously close position.
“The Doomsday Clock is sounding an alarm for the whole of humanity,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin. “The world remains stuck in an extremely dangerous moment.”
Ongoing Nuclear Tensions
A key factor cited by the Bulletin was the ongoing tensions between nuclear-armed nations and the high risk these weapons could be used either intentionally or by accident.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has raised particular concerns, as Russian President Vladimir Putin made thinly-veiled threats to use Russia’s nuclear arsenal if the West intervened. The conflict also led to control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, falling under Russian control. Shelling around the plant has led to international alarm.
“We have been lucky so far, but luck is not a strategy,” said former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, now chair of The Elders organization. “Geopolitical tensions are far too high, and the risk of nuclear conflict by accident or miscalculation too great for the atomic scientists to move the hands of the Clock away from catastrophe.”
The Bulletin also cited ongoing tensions between other nuclear powers like India, Pakistan, North Korea, and China as raising the risk of intentional or accidental nuclear conflict.
Worsening Climate Change
Climate change was also cited as a key factor in the Doomsday Clock’s position. Levels of planet-warming greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide continue to rise, and 2022 was one of the hottest years ever recorded. Extreme events like floods, storms, and wildfires wreaked havoc across the globe.
“The climate crisis is here and now,” said Ban. “Record high temperatures and extreme weather events demonstrate that we are running out of time to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.”
Sea levels are rising rapidly as polar ice sheets melt, threatening coastal cities and infrastructure. And climate change is combining with factors like rising inequality to trigger mass migration and potential instability.
“Climate migration and its resulting geopolitical tensions are an imminent threat to societies around the world,” said Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and chair of The Elders. “Leaders need a crisis mindset. We are on the edge of the abyss.”
AI and Disruptive Technologies
New technologies like artificial intelligence and synthetic biology also pose risks cited by the Bulletin. The increasing use of AI for surveillance and predictive analytics threatens privacy rights and human agency. The development of autonomous weapons systems, enabled by artificial intelligence, also presents dangers.
“AI tools for surveillance and control are expanding authoritarian governance around the world,” said Ban. “Lethal autonomous weapons systems lack adequate international regulations. While AI can do enormous good, it also has dystopian potential for great harm.”
Advances in synthetic biology allow biohackers to engineer pathogens, raising biosecurity concerns. The Bulletin called for responsible innovation as science progresses faster than policies can keep up. Misuse of emerging technologies like quantum computing was also cited as an area needing more international collaboration.
Action Needed to “Turn Back the Clock”
The Bulletin laid out several key recommendations for global leaders and ordinary citizens to help “turn back the hands of the Doomsday Clock” to a safer position.
- Renew and uphold nuclear arms control agreements
- Rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions
- Institute regulations on dangerous technologies
- Strengthen institutions for international cooperation
“Citizens globally must increase political engagement and demand change from their leaders across all areas of concern,” said Ban Ki-Moon. “Youth, especially, must raise their voice since they stand to inherit dire consequences if action is not taken quickly.”
While risks remain high, the Bulletin said recent events also demonstrate people power. Mass protest movements have erupted around inequality, political oppression, gender rights, and climate action. They encourage citizens to stay engaged on these intertwined issues influencing the Clock.
“People power has the potential to drive action,” said Robinson. “Though the clock remains dangerously close to midnight, there is always hope if ordinary people make their voices heard.”
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will reconvene in 2025 for their next Doomsday Clock announcement, assessing global progress on reducing threats over the coming year.
For now, the clock remains poised perilously close to a symbolic doomsday, indicating the world is no safer this year in the view of scientists. But global action and cooperation could still alter the clock’s fate going forward if change happens quickly enough to reduce mounting threats to humanity’s future.
“Next year, will the members of the Bulletin Science and Security Board see movement in the right direction?” asked Bronson. “Citizens of the world unite to demand that leaders reduce the threats from nuclear weapons and climate change and regulate risky technologies. The future is in our hands.”
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