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Doomsday Clock

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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.
Who watches the watchmen?
—Quoted as the epigraph of the Tower Commision Report, 1987
The clock's current setting.

The Doomsday Clock is a device maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago which is used to indicate the threat of a nuclear, biological, or environmental disaster. It is a clock face, where midnight represents a nuclear war or an environmental catastrophe, and noon represents world peace. It has been "operational" since 1947 when it first appeared on the cover of the Bulletin, where it has appeared ever since. It has changed 24 times since 1947, moving forwards 16 times whilst moving backwards 8 times. The lowest time it reached was 11:43, following the Soviet Union's collapse. It was previously closest to midnight during 1953, after the US and the USSR tested their thermonuclear weapons, where it read 11:58.[1]

Timeline[edit]

Graph of the changes to the Doomsday Clock time since 1947. Note: The lower the graph becomes, the higher the probability of catastrophe is deemed to be.

In recent times, the clock has been changing for the worse, albeit slowly. On January 22, 2015, it was set "3 minutes to midnight", due to "unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals", and the failure of "international leaders" to do anything about it.[2] In January 2017, it was set "2.5 minutes to midnight", due to Donald Trump.[3] The clock changed in January 2018, when it was again set "2 minutes to midnight" — a level unseen since 1953 — mostly due to Donald Trump once more.[4] The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said it saw an increase in dangers to humanity, from climate change to nuclear warfare.[5] On January 23rd, 2020, the clock was set 100 seconds to midnight, the closest the clock had ever been to midnight.[6] The clock's time was reaffirmed on January 27th, 2021.[7] In January 2023 it moved to 90 seconds, due to the war in Ukraine, which not only risked escalation into a wider conflict but also caused damage to wider norms about how nations interact with each other.[8]

The worst part regarding all of this is that nobody seems to acknowledge nor care about these solemn warnings.

A different kind of clock, counting towards a different kind of doom
It would be a stronger world, a stronger loving world, to die in.
—John Cale

Criticism[edit]

The clock has received a variety of criticism, over its form, its accuracy, and transparency. One internet humorist remarked sarcastically:

Our metaphor for the apocalypse will be the clock, a thing that moves irregularly and doesn’t change unless you manually adjust it[9]

There is a basic problem in taking two separate factors, the risk of nuclear war and the risk of climate change, and combining them into a single numerical value, when the two risks are not particularly similar - a countdown to a nuclear apocalypse makes some sense conceptually, but the metaphor is less successful for a more gradual process where the exact tipping point into catastrophe is unclear and may already have happened. Arguably the clock should tick forwards a little with each quantity of carbon dioxide expelled into the atmosphere, but instead it mostly sits stationary.[10] There has also been criticism that the clock doesn't have a transparent rubric explaining how the various factors are translated into a time.[11]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. "Doomsday Clock Timeline." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 9 Sept 2009, http://www.thebulletin.org/content/doomsday-clock/timeline Doomsday Clock Timeline.
  2. Mecklin, John. "Press release: It is now 3 minutes to midnight." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/2015/01/press-release-it-is-now-3-minutes-to-midnight/. Accessed 4 February 2015.
  3. Chappell, Bill. "The Doomsday Clock Is Reset: Closest To Midnight Since The 1950s." National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/26/511592700/the-doomsday-clock-is-now-30-seconds-closer-to-midnight. Accessed 26 January 2017.
  4. Borger, Julian. "Doomsday Clock ticked forward 30 seconds to 2 minutes to midnight." The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/25/doomsday-clock-ticked-forward-trump-nuclear-weapons-climate-change. Accessed 6 October 2021.
  5. "2018 Doomsday Clock Statement." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 26 Jan 2018, https://thebulletin.org/2018-doomsday-clock-statement]
  6. Mecklin, John. "2020 Doomsday Clock Statement." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/2020-doomsday-clock-statement/. Accessed 26 March 2020.
  7. Mecklin, John. "2021 Doomsday Clock Statement." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/. Accessed 29 July 2021.
  8. 2023 Doomsday Clock Statement, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan 24, 2023
  9. Our metaphor for the apocalypse will be the clock, a thing that moves irregularly and doesn’t change unless you manually adjust it, @pixelatedboat on Twitter, Jan 24, 2023
  10. Is It Time to Call Time on the Doomsday Clock?, Wired, Jan 24, 2023
  11. Some disagree that it is 100 seconds to midnight. These undergrads held a debate, Nitish Vaidyanathan, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 2, 2022