End Near? Doomsday Clock Holds at 5 'Til Midnight

The hands of the infamous "Doomsday Clock" will remain firmly in their place at five minutes to midnight — symbolizing humans' destruction — for the year 2013, scientists announced today (Jan. 14).

Keeping their outlook for the future of humanity quite dim, the group of scientists also wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to partner with other global leaders to act on climate change.

The clock is a symbol of the threat of humanity's imminent destruction from nuclear or biological weapons, climate change and other human-caused disasters. In making their deliberations about how to update the clock's time this year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists considered the current state of nuclear arsenals around the globe, the slow and costly recovery from events like Fukushima nuclear meltdown, and extreme weather events that fit in with a pattern of global warming.

"2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, marked by devastating drought and brutal storms," the letter says. "These extreme events are exactly what climate models predict for an atmosphere laden with greenhouse gases." [Doom and Gloom: 10 Post-Apocalyptic Worlds]

At the same time, the letter did give a nod to some progress, applauding the president for taking steps to "nudge the country along a more rational energy path," with his support for wind and other renewable energy sources.

"We have as much hope for Obama's second term in office as we did in 2010, when we moved back the hand of the Clock after his first year in office," Robert Socolow, chair of the board that determines the clock's position, said in a statement. "This is the year for U.S. leadership in slowing climate change and setting a path toward a world without nuclear weapons."

The Doomsday Clock came into being in 1947 as a way for atomic scientists to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons. That year, the Bulletin set the time at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight symbolizing humanity's destruction. By 1949, it was at three minutes to midnight as the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated. In 1953, after the first test of the hydrogen bomb, the doomsday clock ticked to two minutes until midnight.

The Bulletin was at its most optimistic in 1991, when the Cold War thawed and the United States and Russia began cutting their arsenals. That year, the clock was set at 17 minutes to midnight.

From then until 2010, however, it was a gradual creep back toward destruction, as hopes of total nuclear disarmament vanished and threats of nuclear terrorism and climate change reared their heads. In 2010, the Bulletin found some hope in arms reduction treaties and international climate talks and bumped the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back to six minutes from midnight from its previous post at five to midnight. But by 2012, the clock was pushed forward another minute.

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