Scientists have set the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than ever before

The hands of the Doomsday Clock are closer to midnight than ever before, and humanity faces an “unprecedented peril” that has increased the likelihood of a man-made apocalypse, a group of scientists announced Tuesday.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists — a non-profit organization of scientists, former political leaders, and security and technology experts — moved the symbolic clock forward 10 seconds to 90 seconds before midnight.

The adjustment, made in response to the threats of nuclear weapons, climate change and infectious diseases such as Covid-19, comes the closest to symbolically dooming a clock since it was created more than 75 years ago.

“We live in times of unprecedented threat, and the timing of the Doomsday Clock reflects that reality,” Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said in a statement, adding that “this is a decision our experts should not take lightly.”

Scientists around the Doomsday Clock have been set to 90 seconds to midnight.  (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

Scientists around the Doomsday Clock have been set to 90 seconds to midnight. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

The Doomsday Clock was created to convey the imminence of catastrophic threats to humanity, serving as a metaphor for public and world leaders rather than a prognostic tool. When it was unveiled in 1947, the clock was set to 7 minutes to midnight, with “midnight” denoting a man-made apocalypse. At the height of the Cold War, it was set to 2 minutes to midnight.

In 2020, the Bulletin set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the first time it had moved within two minutes. For the next two years, the hands remained unchanged.

Bulletin scientists say humanity is dangerously close to catastrophe.

In particular, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increased the risk of a nuclear escalation, they said. As the United States, Russia and China modernize their nuclear arsenals, the nuclear threat from North Korea, India and Pakistan is also growing, said Steve Fetter, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and a member of the Bulletin on the Security Board.

“From almost every perspective, the risk of a nuclear catastrophe is higher today than it was last year,” Fetter said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The climate crisis also remains a major threat, with Bulletin scientists noting that while carbon emissions fell in 2020

“With emissions still increasing, extreme weather continues and is even more clearly attributable to climate change,” said Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute and member of the Bulletin’s science and safety board.

Kartha added, however, that innovation in renewable energy has been a bright spot, along with the strong commitment of younger generations who are passionately pushing for more climate action.

“The generation that will be our leaders in the future is growing up that is excited about climate change,” said Kartha. “They worry about it as a personal matter.”

According to Bulletin researchers, in addition to addressing the consequences of global warming, countries should reduce the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases and other biological threats.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 to investigate global security issues related to science and technology. Each year, the group consults with a board of sponsors to analyze the world’s most pressing threats to determine where the hands of the Doomsday Clock should be set.

This year, the organization hopes the clock will be a wake-up call for world leaders and members of the public.

“The doomsday clock is ringing the alarm clock for all of humanity,” said Mary Robinson, president of the NGO The Elders and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We are on the brink of a precipice.”

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