What is the Doomsday Clock and why should we care?

The Doomsday clock

The Doomsday Clock has inched half a minute closer to midnight, following the failure of world leaders, to deal with the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.

At 2 minutes to midnight, this is the joint closest that the iconic clock’s minute hand has been to midnight – midnight representing global catastrophe. We explore the origins of the Doomsday Clock and why it matters.

What is the Doomsday Clock?

The imposing clock was created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists as a reaction to the heightened threat of Nuclear War in 1947. Following its debut, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. Every year since, the minute hand on the clock has been moved towards or away from midnight, depending on the action – or inaction – taken on issues like nuclear proliferation and increased levels of greenhouse gases. In 1953 the clock reached two minutes to midnight – the closest humans have been to global catastrophe, while in 1991 the clock read 17 minutes to midnight following the end of the Cold War.

Along with the announcement of the time’s new setting, the group of nuclear scientists release a report, detailing threats to the planet. When calculating the clock the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists take into account a number of global threats including; nuclear threats, climate change, bioterrorism and, the recently introduced, cyber warfare

Why does the clock matter?

The clock is often criticised for catastrophising issues and skeptics have been negative of the clock’s back and forth nature. However, Rachel Bronson, President and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists believes that it is vital to raise awareness of global threats on a regular basis. “In a media landscape awash in manufactured stories and trivial conversations, a focus on sobering issues such as these is not something to breeze by casually,” she says. “It is important.” Unchecked climate change has seen the Doomsday clock move forward to two minutes to midnight (Photo: Shutterstock) More than anything the discussion raised by the clock’s setting is vital according to Bronson. “While the time we set on the Doomsday Clock is in and of itself important, the conversation that it generates is truly impressive. “We stimulate a worldwide conversation in which people ask themselves and one another whether the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board got the time right.”

A Doomsday Clock Timeline

1947, 7 minutes to midnight: Time is set for the first time

1949, 3 minutes to midnight: USSR tests its first nuclear bomb

1953, 2 minutes to midnight: The USA tests first hydrogen bomb – far stronger than any nuclear bomb. This is the closest the minute hand has been to midnight

1962, 7 minutes to midnight: Cuban Missile Crisis is successfully resolved

1972, 12 minutes to midnight: Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) is passed

1981, 4 minutes to midnight: Cold War reheats with the election of Ronald Reagan and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

1984, 3 minutes to midnight: US threatens a space based anti-ballistic missile system

1990, 10 minutes to midnight: The Berlin Wall falls

1991, 17 minutes to midnight: Cold War ends. This is the furthest the minute hand has been from midnight

2002, 7 minutes to midnight: Following 9/11 fears increase of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands

2012, 5 minutes to midnight: Kim Jong-Un underlines potential for nuclear war in Korea

2016, 3 minutes to midnight: Lack of action on climate change and nuclear weapon arsenals remain

2017, 2 and a half minutes to midnight: The rise of nationalism, President Donald Trump’s vaguness regarding nuclear weapon use saw the clock move half a minute towards midnight.

2018, 2 minutes to midnight: Failure from world leaders to deal with climate change issues and nuclear threats saw the clock make a further leap forward.

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