The planet is officially in more danger than it's been in 64 years—since 1953, when the United States and Soviet Union detonated hydrogen bombs within nine months of one another, and with them launched the modern nuclear arms race. The coterie of scientists and Nobel Laureates who make up The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board have acted as keepers of the Doomsday Clock since its post-WWII creation in 1947. The Clock itself is a symbolic countdown of just how close scientists believe we are to a possible global catastrophe, and every moment it inches closer to midnight signifies another step forward in the human race's march towards our own doom.
References to the Doomsday Clock are scattered all across our cultural landscape, and particularly in heavy metal, which has long indulged in a fixation with all things apocalyptic. British heavy metal icons Iron Maiden fell under the Clock's spell on their classic song "Two Minutes to Midnight," wherein they describe a hollow, bloody future that they undoubtedly hoped they'd never see. The song was released at the height of the Cold War in 1984, when the Doomsday Clock was set to three—nuclear tensions between the States and Soviet Union were running high as President Reagan lusted for conflict and the Soviet–Afghan War raged. It hovered there until 1988 and for several years, kept climbing as walls fell, treaties were signed, and dictators were overthrown.
However, it's been inching steadily closer to midnight since 1991—when the breakup of the Soviet Union caused many around the globe to heave a sigh of relief—and in the past few years especially, has been in a veritable freefall. Tensions surrounding nuclear weaponry has long been the main focus of the Clock's countdown, but in recent years, another evil has begun to cast a shadow over the proceedings. Since 2012, scientists have been citing rising concerns over (and global leaders' lack of action to address) climate change as the basis for several subtracted minutes, most recently in 2015, when the Clock's hands settled at three minutes to midnight.
It is now 2017. A bigoted, ignorant, temperamental, clueless con man and fascist authoritarian-in-training who has muzzled the scientific community and ignores all evidence to insist that climate change is not real is sitting in the Oval Office, systematically and gleefully whisking away the rights—and futures—of millions of people with every pen stroke. The country is in chaos. American's idea of democracy is in tatters. An illegitimate, white supremacist, ultra-capitalist, repressive regime has overtaken one of the most powerful countries on earth. The oceans are rising, the planet is heating up, and the President of the United States is spending most of his limited mental energy on Twitter wars and outright lies. The man with his finger on The Button flies into terrifying rages at the merest perceived insult.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board gave a press conference earlier today to mark this year's Clock setting, and the news wasn't good.
We are now two and a half minutes to midnight.
While one scientists cited the nuclear threat, climate change, and new scientific developments as their impetus behind the move, another chimed in to note that there is a "new verbal response by world leaders which is of great concern, that is new, and recent, and it played a role to compound all those factors in causing us to move the clock forward." One assumes he's got one particular world "leader" in mind. With a madman in office and doomsday itself looming closer than it has in most of our lifetimes, Iron Maiden's apocalyptic visions have never stood in starker relief:
"The body bags and little rags of children torn in two
And the jellied brains of those who remain to put the finger right on you.
As the madmen play on words and make us all dance to their song,
To the tune of starving millions to make a better kind of gun."
Kim Kelly is researching bomb shelters on Twitter.