Doomsday Clock Edges Closer To Catastrophe At 100 Seconds To Midnight

The clock has moved forward 20 seconds for the first time since 2018. Robyn Mackenzie/Shutterstock

Katy Pallister 24 Jan 2020, 15:17

In an announcement made by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), the Doomsday Clock has moved 20 seconds forward from its previous position in 2019. It is now 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to midnight – or catastrophe, as it symbolizes –  since its creation in 1947.

"We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds – not hours, or even minutes. It is the closest to Doomsday we have ever been in the history of the Doomsday Clock," Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of BAS, said.

“We now face a true emergency – an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay.”

The Doomsday Clock is a metaphor for the dangers our world faces, and the likelihood of a global catastrophe, due to the actions of humanity. Midnight is the point at which an apocalypse will happen. Having remained at two minutes to midnight from 2018 to January 2019 (which doesn't mean the threat lessened, rather that it stay high), the jump forward of 20 seconds is attributed to worsening political conflicts in the nuclear realm, the limited political response to climate change, and the proliferation of cyber-based disinformation.

The announcement of the 2020 Doomsday Clock. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The clock was first created 73 years ago by the BAS, formed by a group of researchers involved in creating the first nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project. For the first magazine edition of the Bulletin, the co-editor Hyman Goldsmith asked the artist Martyl Langsdorf to create a cover design. As the Cold War loomed, the urgency to act on the nuclear situation that scientists were concerned about was to her best represented by a clock. The time was set for 7 minutes to midnight.

Now an internationally recognized symbol, the positioning of the clock’s hands not only considers the threat of nuclear weapons, but since 2007 has also examined the impact of climate change.

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Made up of scientists and experts specializing in nuclear technology and climate science, the BAS’s Science and Security Board in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors decides on the clock’s time. This year they were also joined by members of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders collaborating for peace, which was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007.

Commenting on the addition, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and current deputy chair of The Elders, said: “We share a common concern over the failure of the multilateral system to address the existential threats we face.”

The Doomsday timeline up until 2018. The clock remained at 2 minutes to midnight in 2019 and leaped forward 20 seconds this year. Fastfission/Wikimedia Commons 


“Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond,” the BAS explained in a statement

In particular, it emphasized how national leaders had “ended or undermined several major arms control treaties”. The tense political climate around nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea were also mentioned; although, as reported by Business Insider, the researchers had made their decision before the Trump administration announced the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

As well as identifying the causes of the world’s demise, the statement also provided action steps to “turn back the hands of the Clock”. A key point was for countries to “publicly rededicate themselves” to the Paris climate agreement, after the UN climate meetings last year “put forward few concrete plans to further limit the carbon dioxide emissions that are disrupting Earth’s climate”.

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