Friday, September 24, 2021
Sept. 24, 2021

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Doomsday Clock close to apocalypse time


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is keeping the Doomsday Clock set at two minutes to midnight — the emblematic end of the world — calling the threats against humankind “a new abnormal.”

The scientists announced Thursday that the clock is stuck at 11:58, citing nuclear weapons and climate change as two existential risks that leave the world dangerously close to an apocalypse.

Bulletin President Rachel Bronson told The Washington Post that the scientists felt that keeping the clock at that “daunting time” was appropriate because “the time corresponded to the message we were sending.” She said the board was particularly concerned that “U.S.-Russian relations are near an all-time low,” “the arms control architecture is deteriorating,” and “carbon emissions are rising after a period of plateauing.”

She particularly emphasized that “the intentional undermining of the information architecture for political purposes, which we view as a threat multiplier — makes everything that we’re doing more difficult.”

The clock, a metaphorical measure for the world’s proximity to global disaster, advanced 30 seconds last year, to two minutes to “midnight.” It had also advanced 30 seconds in 2017, but it did not move at all in 2016.

Bronson said the time on the clock right now is the most dangerously close it has been to doom since 1953, when the United States and Soviet Union began testing hydrogen bombs.

Although the time on the clock remains the same, Bronson said, some circumstances have changed over the past year. She noted that the scientists were encouraged that the rhetoric surrounding the Korean Peninsula has calmed, but, as for some other dangers, the scientists did not see a “qualitative” difference that would warrant changing the clock.

“In fact,” she said, “we expect to be here for some time, in this precarious situation, which is why we’re calling it the ‘new abnormal.'”

Moving time since 1947

The clock sits at the intersection of art and science, and it has wavered between two and 17 minutes until the apocalypse since its inception in 1947.

The Bulletin was founded by veterans of the Manhattan Project who were concerned about the consequences of their nuclear research. One of them, nuclear physicist Alexander Langsdorf, was married to artist Martyl Langsdorf, who created the clock and set it at seven minutes to midnight, or 11:53, for the cover of the group’s magazine. Her husband moved the time four minutes ahead in 1949.

Since then, the Bulletin’s board has determined how far the clock’s minute hand will move, usually to draw attention to worldwide crises that it believes threatens the survival of the human species.

The Bulletin’s reasoning has traditionally focused on the availability of nuclear weapons and a willingness among the world’s great powers to use them. However, in recent years, the scientists have also considered the threat posed by climate change, which the scientists warned in 2007 is “nearly as dire” as the dangers of nuclear weapons.