The Doomsday Clock was reset on Thursday to just 100 seconds before midnight – the closest we've come to the complete and total annihilation of Earth (well, at least metaphorically).
Midnight on the clock symbolizes the end of the world and, each year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists decides what time it is.
"It is 100 seconds to midnight. Now, we are expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds – not hours or even minutes," said Bulletin President Rachel Bronson in a statement. "Now we face a real emergency – an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or additional delay."
So, what factors determine how close we are to midnight? Mainly, the threat of nuclear weapons and climate change, said Bronson.
When the Clock was created in 1947, the greatest threat to humanity was nuclear war, when the United States and the Soviet Union were entering a nuclear arms race.
"But in 2007, we felt that we could not answer these questions without including climate change," Bronson told CNN.
In recent years, the Bulletin's panel of scientists and other experts has begun examining other "disruptive technologies", including artificial intelligence, gene editing and cyber threats, Bronson said.
While climate change and the nuclear threat remain the main factors, the Bulletin identified "cyber intrusions and fake news as a threat facilitator," said Bronson. "The information environment has become complicated and increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, and that has made all other threats more significant."
The same threats, only amplified
Inside 2018, the clock was set to 23:58 and remained so in 2019, as the threat from North Korea's nuclear weapons and climate change had the world at its fingertips.
Last year, those same threats were amplified, bringing the clock closer to midnight.
In 2019, the nuclear threat increased with North Korea and Iran.
Historical meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean moon Jae-in initially raised hopes for a possible denuclearization deal, but there has been no significant progress. North Korea threatened to abandon negotiations with the US, saying the last year and a half of negotiations was "a waste of time".
Recently, the Second Pentagon general said North Korea is "building new missiles … new weapons as fast as anyone on the planet". Earlier this month, state news agency KCNA reported that Kim told government officials that North Korea should no longer feel compelled by its self-imposed stop to nuclear weapons and long-range missile tests.
And with Iran, the hashtag #WWIII started to appear on Twitter, after the main Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US attack. Iran retaliated with a strike of its own, firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi military bases that house American troops.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said his country is working on development new advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to the Iranian state news agency IRNA. It is a measure that violates the nuclear agreement that Tehran signed with other world powers in 2015.
On climate change, 2019 was the second hottest year on record, ending a decade that was the hottest in history, according to NASA and NOAA.
"This shows that what is happening is persistent, not a fluke due to some climatic phenomenon: we know that long-term trends are being driven by rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," said a NASA official on the discoveries.
Experts say climate change has worsened the scope and impact of natural disasters like fires and floods. Australia saw this impact first hand, with fires ravaging the country for months.
So, what can we do to slow the clock down?
The threats of nuclear destruction and global warming may seem too great for us, but the aim of the Bulletin is not to use the Clock as a scary tactic, but to get people talking.
"What we are trying to do is give the public the ability to talk about the state of nuclear security and really put pressure on their leaders to pay attention to this and climate change and show that they are concerned about it," said Bronson.
"In democracies, we try to encourage people to talk to their political representatives so that these huge investments that are entering nuclear arsenals can be directed elsewhere. That arms control agreements must be signed to reduce threats."
In fact, the watch hand was removed from midnight almost as many times as it was approached, the Bulletin said.
He pulled his hand away – 17 minutes before midnight – in 1991, when President George H.W. The Bush administration signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Soviet Union.