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The Doomsday Clock was moved 20 seconds closer to midnight on Thursday, January 23, signifying the world getting closer to global disaster. As it stands, the clock is only 100 seconds to midnight.
The move was largely in response to two key indicators – climate change and the threat of nuclear war. This is especially in the context of degradation to the “international political infrastructure” – meaning the world’s leaders are failing to work together to solve these issues in a meaningful way.
“We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds – not hours, or even minutes. We now face a true emergency – an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit organization concerned with science and global security issues that have negative consequences for humanity.
The decision was made by the group’s science and security board, in conjunction with its board of sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates.
What is the Doomsday Clock?
The Doomsday Clock was created by the organization in response to the threat of nuclear disaster in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War II. The clock is intended to increase public knowledge about the threats facing mankind in order to help reduce the likelihood of catastrophic events.
Although the clock has made significant movements toward midnight since inception, it has moved both backward and forward throughout its history. Notable backward movements were recorded in 1969, 1972 and 1991. The latest increase was in response to the end of the Cold War and the signing of a nuclear reduction deal between the United States and Russia called the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) I, which moved the clock back 17 minutes.
Prior to this week’s announcement, the most recent change was in 2018 when the clock was moved to two minutes before midnight.
Although many scientists and academics agree that the threats facing humanity are dire and urgent action needs to be taken, some criticize the Doomsday Clock as an unscientific tool that brings about unnecessary panic. Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard University, claims that the clock often exaggerates the threats humanity faces, while simultaneously ignoring the fundamental ways conditions for humans have improved over the decades.
People would be less fatalistic and more engaged “if they were more aware of the progress that has taken place, at least in reducing arsenal size and in [agreeing to] treaties like New START, than if they were unaware of them and under the impression that no progress has been made at all,” said Pinker in a 2018 interview with the Bulletin.