Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been tracking world events and assessing how close we are to “destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making”.
Originally focused on the threat posed by nuclear weapons, the scope has since been broadened to include the effects of climate change (first considered in 2007).
In 1947, the clock was started at 7 minutes to midnight – midnight being the point at which it is all too late and the world being destroyed.
This assessment was driven mainly by “the prospect that the United States and the Soviet Union were headed for a nuclear arms race”. By 1953, this had been reduced to just two minutes, with the publication proclaiming, somewhat dramatically:
“The hands of the clock of doom have moved again. Only a few more swings of the pendulum , and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western Civilization.”
Seven years later though, the clock had turned back to 7 minutes again and the hands were not to tick as far as in 1953 again until 2018.
Then, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wrote:
“Major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race, one that will be very expensive and will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions. Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals.”
Since then, however, the global situation has apparently become even more dire.
The assessment for 2022 kept the clock in the same threatening position that it had been in since 2020 – at just 100 seconds to midnight.
Now though, in 2024, the clock ticked even further, to just 90 seconds – the same position it found itself in at the start of last year.
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The main reasoning is as follows:
“Ominous trends continue to point the world toward global catastrophe. The war in Ukraine and the widespread and growing reliance on nuclear weapons increase the risk of nuclear escalation. China, Russia, and the United States are all spending huge sums to expand or modernize their nuclear arsenals, adding to the ever-present danger of nuclear war through mistake or miscalculation.”
Of course, they couldn’t help but also claim that the climate also played a role in the assessment:
“The world in 2023 entered uncharted territory as it suffered its hottest year on record and global greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise. Both global and North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures broke records, and Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest daily extent since the advent of satellite data.”
Which leaves us wondering… what happens if The Doomsday Clock reaches midnight – because ‘climate-something’ – and the world doesn’t end?