Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather round, for today is the day that we find out just how close to midnight – or the end of the world – we are. That’s right: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will announce at 10am EST (3pm GMT) today what time they will set the Doomsday Clock to.
The symbolic timepiece – where midnight represents our species’ destruction through a global catastrophe – has been ticking since 1947. Last year, we were two-and-a-half minutes from midnight.
Since 1991, after the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War came to an end, the clock has almost continually advanced upon midnight. Despite a small reprieve back in 2010, we have inched ever closer to the end of the world since.
The closest the clock has been to midnight was back in 1953, when an insurrection in East Germany was suppressed by occupying Russian military forces. At the same time, Stalin had just died – setting off a power struggle – the Korean War was ongoing, nuclear weapons were proliferating across the globe, and the US had just tested the first thermonuclear bomb in history.
The world is in a very different place today, but we are almost as likely to experience a global catastrophe as we were back then.
Nuclear weapons are still around in ludicrous numbers, and the unfortunately phallic-themed battle between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and President Trump over the size of their “nuclear buttons” has caused genuine, widespread concern. Russia has been increasingly militaristic as of late. Nationalism, secessionism, and isolationism are increasingly threatening political stability.
Although originally set up to monitor the danger of nuclear weapons, the list of threats that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists keeps an eye on continues to grow. Climate change, in particular, is noted as an increasingly potent danger to civilization.
Even if this clock were set at 10 seconds to midnight, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end is nigh. It’s ultimately a way of highlighting how reckless our collective behaviors have been recently, and that a safer future awaits if we take these into account and mitigate them.
So – will we? Check back here to find out.