Doomsday Clock: We're now 90 seconds away from total destruction

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists cited the war in Ukraine, climate change, and infectious diseases as the reason for resetting the clock.
Deena Theresa
A city after doomsday
A city after doomsday

Bulgac/iStock 

We're closer than ever to total annihilation, to the end of the world.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit organization, announced on Tuesday that the Doomsday Clock has moved closer than ever to midnight, primarily due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the increased risk of nuclear escalation.

The clock was set at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to midnight it had ever reached.

Threats posed by the climate crisis and the "breakdown of global norms and institutions needed to mitigate risks associated with advancing technologies and biological threats such as Covid-1" also influenced the new Clock time.

"We are living in a time of unprecedented danger, and the Doomsday Clock time reflects that reality," Rachel Bronson, Ph.D., president, and CEO, of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said in a statement. "The US government, its NATO allies, and Ukraine have a multitude of channels for dialogue; we urge leaders to explore all of them to their fullest ability to turn back the Clock."

Doomsday Clock: We're now 90 seconds away from total destruction
Unveiling the Doomsday Clock.

In 2020, the Doomsday Clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight

The Doomsday Clock's time is set by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, which includes 10 Nobel Laureates.

The Board said that the war had raised questions on how nations interact. "Russia's thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict - by accident, intention, or miscalculation - is a terrible risk," it said.

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Previously, the Doomsday Clock had been set at 100 seconds to midnight since 2020.

Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Chair of The Elders and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: "Three years ago, I helped unveil the Doomsday Clock when its hands were last moved. Today they are even closer to midnight, showing how much more perilous our world has become in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, and Russia’s outrageous war on Ukraine. Leaders did not heed the Doomsday Clock’s warnings in 2020. We all continue to pay the price. In 2023 it is vital for all our sakes that they act."

Doomsday Clock: We're now 90 seconds away from total destruction
Members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Siegfried S. Hecker, Daniel Holz, Sharon Squassoni, Mary Robinson and Elbegdorj Tsakhia stand for a photo with the 2023 Doomsday Clock in Washington, DC, on January 24.

What is the Doomsday Clock?

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Eugene Rabinowitch, and the University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project.

According to the scientists, they "could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work” and 'worked to inform the public and policymakers about man-made threats to human existence'.

The clock was designed by painter Martyl Langsdorf.

The clock sparks conversations about topics like climate change

The farthest the clock has been set was in 1991. With the end of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, "the first treaty to provide for deep cuts to the two countries’ strategic nuclear weapons arsenals". This prompted the Bulletin to set the clock hand to 17 minutes to midnight.

The clock doesn't change every year. The time has changed according to how close the scientists believe the human race is to the end. Also, the clock doesn't precisely measure existential threats; instead, it sparks conversations about difficult scientific topics, according to the Bulletin.

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