The famous doomsday clock turns 75 this year, and it is possible that its hands may move closer to midnight than ever before.
The symbolic clock, maintained by the non-profit organization Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, measures what the Bulletin believes is the likelihood of a “global catastrophe” – a catastrophic event that could endanger human life worldwide.
The bulletin updates the clock for 2022 at. 02.00 AEDT tomorrow.
What exactly is the doomsday clock?
In addition to being a catchy name, Doomsday Clock is a concept established in 1947 that allows a group of scientists and analysts to express the risk of a potentially catastrophic disaster.
Midnight represents the time of this disaster.
The symbolic clock also serves as a call to action for humanity as a whole to try to “turn back time” and retreat from a head-long rush into the apocalypse.
It was established by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a non-profit organization of scientists and scientists themselves founded in 1945 by, among others, Albert Einstein.
How do they measure the probability of disaster?
The members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists involved analyze risks in three key areas – nuclear weapons, climate change and disruptive technologies in other areas.
Of course, nuclear technology was very much on the minds of scientists in 1947, but in recent years, climate change, and more recently still the global response to the COVID-19 eruption, has emerged as crucial factors.
Where are the hands at the moment?
Since 2020, the hands have been sitting at 100 seconds until midnight – just over a minute and a half away.
And yes, that’s the closest we’ve come to the familiar midnight battle.
In last year’s Doomsday Clock statement, the Bulletin declared the COVID-19 pandemic a “wake-up call” pointing to laggards and lack of response from world leaders that allowed the disease to spread.
“The pandemic revealed how unprepared and unwilling countries and the international system are to deal with global emergencies properly,” the statement read.
“In this time of real crisis, governments too often abdicated responsibility, ignored scientific advice, did not cooperate or communicate effectively, and consequently failed to protect the health and well-being of their citizens.”
The bulletin said that although COVID-19 itself had been destructive, it did not represent an “existential threat” to humanity, but what it revealed by world leadership could do.
The pandemic serves as a historic wake-up call, a vivid illustration of national governments and international organizations unprepared to deal with nuclear weapons and climate change, which currently pose existential threats to humanity, or the other dangers – including more virulent pandemics and next -generational warfare – that could threaten civilization in the near future, “the statement read.
A global acceleration of misinformation – also highlighted by COVID-19 – was also pointed out.
“This ruthless disregard for science and the grandiose embrace of conspiracy nonsense – often driven by political figures and party-political media – undermined the ability of responsible national and global leaders to protect the security of their citizens,” Bulletin said.
“False conspiracy theories about a ‘stolen’ presidential election led to riots that resulted in the deaths of five people and the first hostile occupation of the American capital since 1814.
“By 2020, online lies were literally killed.”
How do we turn back time?
The bulletin proposed a series of measures to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and fight back against the threat of climate change.
It called on the United States and Russia to work together to limit the production of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and for the United States and Iran to return to the joint comprehensive action plan.
Banks were urged to limit investment in fossil fuel projects, and so was China for their Belt and Road initiative.
Tomorrow’s statement will no doubt illustrate how much progress the Bulletin believes has been made.
When was the last time your hands moved away from midnight?
That would be in 2010, when the clock moved back to six minutes from midnight after reaching five minutes to midnight in 2007.
The bulletin noted that year that the world was “ready to bend the bow of history towards a world free of nuclear weapons”.
“For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear-weapon states are cooperating to reduce their arsenals and secure all material for the production of atomic bombs,” the 2010 statement read.
Countries with the highest military spending in the world
“And for the first time ever, both industrialized and developing countries promise to limit climate-changing gas emissions that can make our planet almost uninhabitable.”
It came after then-US President Barack Obama and then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev entered into a partnership to limit their nuclear proliferation in 2009, while the US and China agreed to reduce CO2 emissions at a summit in Copenhagen.
Since its founding in 1947, the clock has been moved 16 times forward and only eight back. Its original position was seven minutes to midnight.
When was the furthest from midnight?
In 1991, when it was moved to 17 minutes away – so to speak at 23.43.
When the clock was originally thought of as having a range of 15 minutes – ie. from 23.45-12.00 – this was something of a statement.
The previous year and more had seen the Cold War dramatically de-escalate, with the Berlin Wall toppled in 1989 and both the United States and Russia turning down their nuclear activities.
The bulletin said it felt as if the world was entering a “new era”.
“The Cold War is over,” they declared in that year’s statement.