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CultureGlobal issues

'Doomsday Clock' remains at 100 seconds to midnight

January 21, 2022

Co-founded by Albert Einstein, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sets the clock designed to represent how near humanity is to the apocalypse. The time has remained unchanged for the third year in a row.

Doomsday Clock reveal, it is 100 seconds to midnight
The Doomsday Clock idea turns 75 years old in 2022; its operators are calling on the public to share ways to #TurnTheClockBack, with it as close to midnight as it has ever beenImage: Thomas Gaulkin/Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The "Doomsday Clock" which represents the perils to human existence remains at 100 seconds to midnight this year, with advances like COVID-19 vaccines offset by rising misinformation and threats of conflict.

The group of scientists that set the Clock did welcome "last year's leadership change in the United States" suggesting it had "provided hope that what seemed like a global race toward catastrophe might be halted and even reversed."

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and the University of Chicago. Two years later, the group created the Doomsday Clock  to symbolically tick towards midnight, the point of a hypothetical global catastrophe. Initially its main focus was the prospect of a world-ending nuclear conflagration in the Cold War, but the group has since broadened its scope to include other threats to humanity and the planet, such as climate change.

Dr. Leonard Rieser, Chairman of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, moves the hand of the Doomsday Clock back to 17 minutes before midnight at offices near the University of Chicago on Nov. 26, 1991.
In 1991, amid the 'end of history' euphoria and optimism as the Soviet Union collapsed, the clock was put back to 17 minutes to midnight, but it has been ticking forward sinceImage: Chicago Tribune/picture alliance

The Doomsday Clock is set by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 11 Nobel laureates.

'Existential catastrophe'

According to the Clock, the world has remained equally vulnerable to the threats posed by war, climate change and pandemics for the third year in a row.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists president Rachel Bronson urged world leaders to do a "far better job of countering disinformation, heeding science and cooperating" in order "to avoid an existential catastrophe, one that would dwarf anything it has yet seen."

"The Clock remains the closest it has ever been to civilization-ending apocalypse because the world remains stuck in an extremely dangerous moment," Bronson told reporters on the 75th anniversary of the clock's inception.

No country is immune to threats to democracy, the Bulletin said, "as the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol demonstrated."

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Background of the Clock

The Bulletin was founded by Einstein, J Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project which produced the first nuclear weapons.

When the clock first began to tick, World War II was still fresh in the mind, as the United States and the USSR were about to embark on an arms race that would see the two nations on the brink of war for a large part of the next four decades.

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By the early 1990s and with the Cold War drawing to a close, the Doomsday Clock was put back to 17 minutes before midnight — the lowest level of threat the group has ever perceived. Other significant breakthroughs came in the form of arms reduction treaties being signed.

In its statement on Thursday, the Bulletin noted hopeful developments at the start of 2021, including the renewal of the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia and some improvements in a still "inadequate" global response to the COVID pandemic. 

But it said international tensions continued to loom , including most recently over Ukraine. The United States, Russia and China meanwhile continue their development hypersonic weapons.

John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk