Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been warning the public about how close humankind is to irreversible destruction. The nonprofit does this via its iconic indicator, the Doomsday Clock. Recently, the Doomsday Clock advanced one-third of a minute to now be within 100 seconds to midnight, with the midnight hour symbolizing our planet’s apocalyptic demise and humanity’s possible extinction.
“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 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said in a statement. “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.”
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is based at the University of Chicago and was founded in 1945 by Manhattan Project researchers, who developed and produced the world’s first atomic weapon. While the Doomsday Clock is a symbolic tool, it is nonetheless utilized as a means for raising awareness about the planet’s proximity to potential annihilation. Each year, the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors and its Science and Security Board assess the state of the planet to determine where the minute hand would rest on the Doomsday Clock.
According to the Bulletin’s website, the team evaluates three main focal points: nuclear risk, climate change and disruptive technologies. Because these major entanglements were initiated and heightened by humans, the nonprofit believes they can, with concerted international effort, be managed and possibly contained.
Back in 1953, the Doomsday Clock was within two minutes of midnight when the first hydrogen bomb was tested. But international agreements to limit nuclear arms helped minimize the risks of global catastrophe, thus pushing the minute hand back. By the close of the Cold War in 1991, the Doomsday Clock was set back at 17 minutes to midnight.
Unfortunately, the dawn of this new century has seen the minute hand creep ever-closer to midnight, mainly due to the growing climate crisis combined with geopolitical tensions exacerbating the threats of nuclear weapon misuse and the leveraging of cyberspace attacks to disrupt society.
Rachel Bronson, the Bulletin’s current president and CEO, emphasized, “We now face a true emergency — an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin of error or further delay.”
Similarly, former California Governor Jerry Brown, who is now the Bulletin’s executive chair, said, “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.”
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