Former California Governor Jerry Brown (left), former Irish President Mary Robinson (middle), and former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reveal the 2020 Doomsday Clock.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Doomsday Clock is reset to 100 seconds until midnight, closest ever

Information warfare and a looming space arms race are among the emerging threats that led a group of scientists today to reset their iconic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has been since the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists started the annual exercise in 1947. Midnight on the clock marks the symbolic moment when humankind could annihilate itself.

A failure to confront nuclear tensions and climate change also influenced the decision to advance the clock 20 seconds from last year’s position, members of the group announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

“Wake up, America! Wake up, world!” exhorted Jerry Brown, former governor of California, who became executive chair of the Bulletin in 2018. “We have to do more. … But we’re not there [to midnight] yet. We can still pull back from the brink.”

Other speakers tallied recent news that has increased their concern and urgency. The United States and Iran have expanded risks of military conflict, North Korea abandoned nuclear talks with the United States, and U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, said Sharon Squassoni, who studies nuclear weapons at George Washington University. “We are rapidly losing our bearings in the nuclear weapons landscape,” she said.

Space is becoming a new arena for weapons development, noted Robert Latiff, a former U.S. Air Force general who is now a professor at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. He said moves by India, Russia, and the United States to develop antisatellite weapons could fuel a space arms race.

Other risks feeding the new Doomsday Clock setting were the dissemination of fake news online, unregulated genetic engineering, and hypersonic weapons developed by Russia and the United States.

“We have an incredible opportunity to reverse the nuclear arms race, the carbon emissions, and the headlong rush to ever more dangerous technologies,” Brown added. “Each one of us can do something.”