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Climate and nuclear threats leave world ‘five minutes to midnight’

Doomsday Clock at ‘five minutes to midnight’ say scientists in letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon

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The four horsemen of the apocalypse could be riding nearby, according to the scientists responsible for nuclear weapons

By Sophie Yeo

Alarm bells are ringing for scientists, who have set the Doomsday Clock at five minutes to midnight for the second year in a row.

Climate change and nuclear weapons programmes mean the world is teetering on the edge of an apocalypse, say the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists who, every year, adjust the foreboding minute hand to indicate our proximity to catastrophe.

In a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the scientists write: “even though there have been positive developments in the renewable energy field over the last year, worldwide efforts to limit the carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change have largely stalled, with emission-reduction programs being used as political footballs in several industrialized countries.”

The Doomsday Clock was set up in 1947 by the scientists who helped to develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project in 1945.

Since then, they have reset the minute hand each year to reflect how close the planet has moved towards an apocalyptic catastrophe.

At first, this was a response to nuclear threat—it dipped to an all-time two minute to midnight low in 1953 when the US and Soviet Union both tested thermonuclear devices—but since 2007, it has also factored in the threat of climate change.

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Ignoring the signals

In 2013, the UN’s latest and most comprehensive climate science report stated that the facts behind climate change was “unequivocal” and would bring along problems such as rising sea levels, acidifying oceans and shrinking ice sheets.

But despite this message, and the development and falling costs of renewable energy, “the world has failed to effectively curb emissions and adapt to a changing climate,” say the scientists, citing stalling efforts to cut emissions across the industrialised world.

This was most clearly demonstrated by Japan, they say, who reneged on their 25% emissions reduction pledges to an increase of 3.1% on 1990 levels in the midst of the UN’s climate change negotiations in November last year.

This is in addition to the failure of Russia and the US to reach an agreement over their nuclear weapons, exacerbated this year by Putin’s decision to shelter American NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“Since the end of World War II, the Bulletin has focused on the interface between scientific discovery and self-governance. Humanity has been sorely tested during its attempts to control the implements of nuclear warfare,” write the scientists in their letter to Ban.

But they add: “The difficulties of managing dangerous technology are perhaps even more challenging when the threat is not the fierce immediacy of atomic explosion, but slow, creeping dangers like rising carbon-dioxide levels or increased access to dual-use science.”

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