Top scientists and security experts moved the ‘Doomsday Clock’ forward on 25 January to just 90 seconds to midnight – signaling an increased risk from the nuclear shadow over the Ukraine conflict and the growing climate crisis.
The new timing of the clock, set by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is closer to midnight than ever before.
A time of unprecedented danger
The hands of the clock, which the Bulletin describes as a “metaphor for how close humanity is to self-annihilation”, had been at 100 seconds to midnight since January 2020 – the closest to midnight it had been in its history.
A decision to reset the hands of the symbolic timepiece is taken each year by the Bulletin’s science and security board, and its board of sponsors, which includes ten Nobel laureates.
In a statement, the Bulletin said it was advancing the hands of the clock by 10 seconds this year:
due largely but not exclusively to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increased risk of nuclear escalation.
It said that Russia’s “thinly veiled threats” to use nuclear weapons:
remind the world that escalation of the conflict – by accident, intention, or miscalculation – is a terrible risk.
The Bulletin also pointed to other factors in its decision to set a new clock time, saying:
the new Clock time was also influenced by continuing threats posed by the climate crisis and the breakdown of global norms and institutions needed to mitigate risks associated with advancing technologies and biological threats such as Covid-19.
Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, warned:
We are living in a time of unprecedented danger, and the Doomsday Clock time reflects that reality.
Calls for action
Former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called for leaders to take action in a world that has become more dangerous because of Covid-19, extreme weather events, and “Russia’s outrageous war on Ukraine”. Ban said:
Leaders did not heed the Doomsday Clock’s warnings in 2020
We all continue to pay the price. In 2023 it is vital for all our sakes that they act.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) noted the shift in the clock’s hands. ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn said in a statement:
The leaders of the nuclear armed states must urgently negotiate nuclear disarmament, and the G7 meeting in Hiroshima in May 2023 is the perfect place to outline such plan
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson also commented:
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.
Carbon emissions click the clock forward
The clock was originally set at seven minutes to midnight. The furthest from midnight it has ever been is 17 minutes, following the end of the Cold War in 1991.
The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, which produced the first nuclear weapons.
The idea of the clock symbolizing global vulnerability to catastrophe followed in 1947. As Wired reported, the clock’s researchers have considered climate change when setting its time since 2007.
Physics professor at the University of Oxford Raymond Pierrehumbert, a member of the Science and Security Board that sets the clock, told the publication that:
Each year you continue to emit carbon dioxide more bad stuff is baked into the system.
In my view, and in the view of a lot of us, every year that we continue to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere the needle should click a little bit forward to doomsday
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Featured image via USA TODAY / YouTube screengrab
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