January 14, 2010

Doomsday Clock Turned Back One Minute

A panel of international scientists moved the minute hand of the "Doomsday Clock" back one minute on Thursday.

It was the first time in two years that the clock had been adjusted, and the 18th time since its inception in 1947 when it was set to seven minutes before midnight.

This year's slight move away from midnight, the metaphorical apocalypse, indicates that the world has inched away from nuclear or environmental disaster. 

However, the scientists, including 19 Nobel laureates, emphasized that the planet is not out of danger.

"It is six minutes to midnight," said the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), which created the clock and maintains it, in a statement read aloud as the clock was turned back.

The BAS was founded in 1945 by scientists from the University of Chicago.  Its scientists were among those who helped to develop the world's first atomic weapons.

"For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material."

"For the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable.

"These unprecedented steps are signs of a growing political will to tackle the two gravest threats to civilization -- the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change," it said.

Since it's creation, the Doomsday clock has been seen as a measure of the world's progress in avoiding catastrophe.  Midnight on the clock indicates the arrival of the apocalypse, while the minute hand symbolizes the countdown to disaster.

When the clock was last adjusted in 2007, the minute hand was set two minutes closer to midnight.

This year's reset was driven by recent "encouraging developments", but was moved back only one minute to demonstrate that "the clock is ticking," said Lawrence Krauss, a physicist and co-chair of the BAS's board of sponsors.

"We moved it back by just one minute and what that means is that there's great potential for it to move again, in either direction," Krauss told the AFP news agency.

"We have a unique opportunity right now to begin to free ourselves from the terror of nuclear weapons and to slow drastic changes to our shared global environment.

"We must take advantage of that opportunity now," he said.

Krauss urged world leaders, scientists and the people of the world to work toward making the planet safer.

"Let's not blow it," he said.


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