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Doomsday Clock edges toward midnight

Scientists add global warming to nuclear fears

Members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists unveiled the Doomsday Clock yesterday in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON -- The scientists who mind the Doomsday Clock moved it two minutes closer to midnight yesterday -- symbolizing the annihilation of civilization and adding the perils of global warming for the first time.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons, advanced the clock to five minutes before midnight. It was the first adjustment of the clock since 2002.

"We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age," the bulletin's board of directors said in a statement.

They cited North Korea's first nuclear test, Iran's nuclear ambitions, US flirtation with "bunker buster" nuclear bombs, the continued presence of 26,000 American and Russian nuclear weapons, and inadequate security for nuclear materials.

But the scientists also said destruction of human habitats wreaked by climate change brought on by human activities is a growing danger. "Global warming poses a dire threat to human civilization that is second only to nuclear weapons," they said.

The announcement was made in news conferences in London and Washington.

"We foresee great peril if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change," theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge, a member of the bulletin's board of sponsors, told London reporters.

Cambridge astrophysicist Martin Rees added that while the Cold War between nuclear-armed superpowers is over, the world is closer than ever to having nuclear bombs used in a localized war or by terrorists in a city center.

"A global village will have its village idiots," Rees said.

Kennette Benedict, the bulletin's executive director, dismissed the notion that by touting the threat posed by global warming, the scientists had diluted their message about the nuclear peril.

Many scientists predict dire consequences from global warming, including higher sea levels that over time could swamp coastal regions, as well as more severe storms and worse wildfires.

The bulletin's scientists moved the clock two minutes forward in 2002, to seven minutes until midnight, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The bulletin was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had worked on developing the first nuclear bomb, and it is now overseen by some of the world's most prominent scientists.

The bulletin created the clock in 1947, two years after the United States ushered in the nuclear age by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities at the end of World War II, to symbolize the nuclear dangers confronting the world.

It now stands at the closest to midnight since 1984, when it was three minutes to midnight amid a deepening Cold War.

It has been adjusted 18 times in 60 years. It was set as close as two minutes before midnight in 1953 after the United States and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs, and as far as 17 minutes before midnight in 1991 at the Cold War's end.