An Open Letter to President Obama: The Time on the Doomsday Clock Is Five Minutes to Midnight
The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board announces its 2013 decision to keep in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock: It will remain at five minutes to midnight. In this open letter to US President Barack Obama, the Board presents its views on the key issues that affected its decision and provides the president with recommendations to consider in 2013 and throughout his second term.
Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists subsequently created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero), to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains.
January 14, 2013
Dear President Obama,
2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the US elections the focus was “the economy, stupid,” with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population’s well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world’s energy sources. 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, marked by devastating drought and brutal storms. These extreme events are exactly what climate models predict for an atmosphere overburdened with greenhouse gases. 2012 was a year of unrealized opportunity to reduce nuclear stockpiles, to lower the immediacy of destruction from missiles on alert, and to control the spread of fissile materials and keep nuclear terrorism at bay. 2012 was a year in which — one year after the partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station — the Japanese nation continued to be at the earliest stages of what will be a costly and long recovery.
The stasis of 2012 convinces us, the Science and Security Board, to keep the hands of the Doomsday Clock in place.
Mr. President, we see 2013 as a year for vision and engagement. We know that decisive action can make the world safer. Humanity awaits the US leadership that can secure a future free of nuclear weapons. US action can induce the world’s nations to negotiate international agreements to avert the worst calamities of climate change. We turn to you, Mr. President, to lead us toward a safer world and to help us turn back the hands of the Doomsday Clock.
It remains five minutes to midnight.
Nuclear weapons. Mr. President, we applaud the steps your administration has already taken: ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), holding to firm account potential violators of the keystone Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), strengthening the global nuclear security regime, and reducing the opportunities and chances of success for terrorists to get hold of fissile material. We are glad that your commitment to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — for which we are confident you will seek Senate approval — has not wavered.