90 Seconds to Midnight: What Does the Doomsday Clock Actually Mean?

90 Seconds to Midnight: What Does the Doomsday Clock Actually Mean?

Today, the Doomsday Clock moved to 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to midnight it has ever been. It’s a scary-sounding thing, but what does this actually mean?

Well, it’s mostly a symbolic announcement, one that serves to illustrate the dangers of armageddon and how close humanity might be to completely destroying itself.

The seconds don’t so much indicate any quantifiable thing, but is more of an understanding of the dangers that we’re facing. Risks like nuclear crises, climate change and ongoing warfare are considered, which then calculate the time remaining to midnight.

The group that organises the Doomsday Clock is the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists‘ Science and Security Board. The Bulletin was originally created by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer and a group of University of Chicago scientists, and today operates in cooperation with a board of sponsors, all being credited scientists and researchers (with 10 current sponsors being Nobel prize laureates).

It has done this since 1947. Since that year it has shifted widely across the clock. The furthest we have been from midnight is 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, just as the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse and peace treaties between the U.S. and Russia were starting to be implemented.

In 2020, the previous record was set, at 100 seconds to midnight, with the climate crisis and a renewed nuclear arms race cited as major factors in the decision.

And now that we’re at 90 seconds to midnight in 2023, those two issues have been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, along with bio-threats like COVID-19 and disinformation technology.

“The Doomsday Clock is sounding an alarm for the whole of humanity. We are on the brink of a precipice. But our leaders are not acting at sufficient speed or scale to secure a peaceful and liveable planet,” the chair of the elders and former UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson said.

“From cutting carbon emissions to strengthening arms control treaties and investing in pandemic preparedness, we know what needs to be done. The science is clear, but the political will is lacking. This must change in 2023 if we are to avert catastrophe. We are facing multiple, existential crises. Leaders need a crisis mindset.”

So, in essence, the Doomsday Clock is a warning from some of Earth’s brightest minds, observing the challenges that humanity faces and how we’re responding to them.

Let’s hope it doesn’t tick any closer.

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