Tick Tock Tick Tock: Doomsday Clock Nears Midnight

©. Linda Parton

It is now 100 seconds to midnight, closer to midnight than at any point since the clock's creation in 1947.

Ahh, humans. We sure are smart, what with our fancy phones, modern medicine, rockets that fly to outer space, and all that stuff. But we seem to be missing something kind of important for a species – we don't appear to be too concerned about self-destruction. Isn't that weird?

The latest proof of this folly – if climate change predictions all coming to fruition weren't enough – is the announcement that the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock is nearing twelve. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates, moved the Doomsday Clock from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight.

Back in 1947 when the Doomsday Clock was created, it was nuclear weapons we feared; in particular from the prospect that the United States and the Soviet Union were headed for a nuclear arms race. In 2007, the potential for catastrophic disruptions from the climate crisis were added into determining the time. This year it is closer to midnight that it has ever been before.

The scientists explain the trifecta of travesties leading to the clock's current time:

“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 international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says, “It is 100 seconds to midnight. 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. We now face a true emergency – an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay.”

Former California Governor Jerry Brown, executive chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says, "Dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder. Climate change just compounds the crisis. If there's ever a time to wake up, it's now."

A statement by the scientists highlights the worsening factors:

“In the nuclear realm, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent.”

“Public awareness of the climate crisis grew over the course of 2019, largely because of mass protests by young people around the world. Just the same, governmental action on climate change still falls far short of meeting the challenge at hand. At UN climate meetings last year, national delegates made fine speeches but put forward few concrete plans to further limit the carbon dioxide emissions that are disrupting Earth’s climate. This limited political response came during a year when the effects of manmade climate change were manifested by one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires, and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice.”

“Continued corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision making depend has heightened the nuclear and climate threats. In the last year, many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet.”

Not to be a doomsday sayer or anything, but really, we need to get our act together or we are going to go the way of the dinosaurs. As Jonas Salk argues in The Survival of the Wisest, "A complete inversion of values is necessary if man is to move from the Darwinian era to the 'epoch of cooperation'; the alternative is species suicide." Which way are we going to go?

Watch the full announcement below.

Read more at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.