The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has announced that the Doomsday Clock shall remain unchanged at 100 seconds to midnight in 2022. The closer we are to midnight – AKA "doomsday" – the closer we are to catastrophe for humanity. For the last two years, the clock has remained fixed at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has been to midnight since it was created in 1947. It aims to highlight that we are still in a perilous historical moment, and humanity is still closer to a potential apocalypse than ever.
The position of the clock is decided by trying to answer two questions: is humanity safer than last year and is humanity safer than it has been over the last 75 years from human-made threats? The board stresses that there have been improvements but not enough to shift the clock back. From the increase in nuclear weapons stockpiling, to the US January 6, 2020 insurrection, the action and inaction of climate change, and the continuation of the pandemic and misinformation surrounding it, 2021 was a lot.
“In 2021, there were some positive developments in each of the areas of concern that the Science & Security Board reviews. However, these have not managed to outweigh the longer-term negative trends that continue to erode security,” Sharon Squassoni, the Science and Security Board co-chair of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, said in the announcing press conference.
The clock was created in 1947. At the dawn of the Cold War, with the rise of atomic bombs, it became clear that governments possessed the means to wipe out humanity by pressing a few buttons in the US or in the USSR. Back then, the clock was placed at 7 minutes to midnight.
Seventy-five years on, the clock continues to cover the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, now found in many more countries, as well as other challenges. The climate crisis and lack of serious actions by the world's major emitters of greenhouse gases is certainly a crucial point. There is also an increase in use and lack of regulation in disruptive technologies contributing to online misinformation, cyberwarfare, and artificial intelligence.
The furthest it has been was in 1991 – set to 11:43 pm – as the tension between the former Soviet Union and the US eased following the reunification of Germany and the signing of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
But the threat of nuclear war is not gone; there are over 13,000 nuclear warheads out in the world, which would easily kill millions within hours if nuclear war were to break out. Last year in particular focused on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it showed that humanity remains unprepared to face challenges that can completely alter our way of life. Given the challenges ahead, the picture is bleak.