Terrorism, tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, renewed friction between the US and Russia, North Korea's nuclear push, and other tensions had pushed the clock to five minutes to midnight by 2007.
But movement on nuclear arms talks, climate change, and other threats so buoyed the scientists two years ago that they ordered the so-called Doomsday Clock's minute hand to be pushed backward to six minutes before midnight.
Now, despite the Arab Spring and other pro-democracy movements around the world, including in Russia, lowering clouds have rolled back in for these scientists. So much so that on Tuesday the BAS directors announced they were moving the minute hand of the clock back to the 2007 position – 11:55.
“Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face,” the BAS directors said in a statement. “In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed.”
“Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock,” the group said in its statement. “As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons.”
But in a year in which the Mayan calendar and other doomsday prophesies are getting more than their share of attention, how seriously, really should the public take this obviously subjective – and critics might argue meaningless – relic of the cold war?