Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight

The famed Doomsday Clock has been set at 100 seconds to midnight this year, the closest it's ever been to the metaphorical point of the Earth's destruction.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unveiled this year's setting for the clock at a news conference Wednesday morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

"Speaking of danger and destruction is never easy. If you speak the truth, people will not want to listen because it's too awful. It makes you sound like a crackpot," said former California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), executive chairman of the Bulletin.

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"Today we live in a world of vast, deep and pervasive complacency," Brown added. "Even if there is a one-in-100 chance that these men and women before you are correct and we are truly in a dangerous moment, you would never know that from the president, from Republican leadership and from Democratic leadership."

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists created the clock in 1947 to represent how close the planet was to annihilation by nuclear weapons. In more recent years, the journal has also weighed the effects of climate change in setting the clock.

Last year, the Bulletin set the clock at two minutes to midnight, choosing to leave the clock at the same time as the previous year.

This year, the Bulletin's panel of scientists and other experts decided to move the clock 20 seconds forward and for the first time express the time in seconds rather than minutes because the "moment demands attention," said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin.

On nuclear issues, the Bulletin cited the erosion of the Iran nuclear deal, the faltering of nuclear negotiations with North Korea, the downfall of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia and next year's expiration of the New START treaty, which caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads Washington and Moscow are allowed.

The Bulletin chose this year's time before the recent spike in U.S.-Iran tensions, but those events "only confirm our view," said Sharon Squassoni, a member of the group’s Science and Security Board.

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On climate change, the scientists cited both continued warming of the planet displayed in devastating hurricanes and wildfires and international governments' lack of urgency in addressing the issue.

"If the Earth warms by what we tend to think of as just a few degrees ... we have no reason to be confident that such a world will remain hospitable to human civilization," said Sivan Kartha, another member of the Science and Security Board.

Despite governments' increasing use of the phrase "climate emergency," he added, "their policies are far from commensurate."

Compounding the threats of nuclear war and climate change, the Bulletin also warned about online disinformation campaigns, a particular worry in the U.S. ahead of this year’s elections in November.

Updated at 11:29 a.m.