What IS the Doomsday clock?

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Since 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been attempting to warn the world about the perils it claims must be addressed in order for humans to continue living on Earth. Throughout its existence, the threats that have influenced its positioning have varied from nuclear weapons to climate change. So, at what points has it forecast the world to be at its closest to catastrophe?

The Doomsday Clock is announced each year during a press conference held by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and a panel of esteemed scientists.

As part of the process, the clock’s minute hand is reset to reflect how close the Bulletin believes the world is to destruction.

For context the closer the minute hand is to midnight the more imminent danger the world is in.

In 2021 the clock was set the closest it’s ever been to midnight, at 100 seconds to (11.58.20pm).

Here, the Bulletin’s panel cited the erosion of trust in science, the rampant spread of conspiracy theories and a lack of political will to tackle the issues as reasons for not resetting the clock.

Panellists that year included the former president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Dr Asha M. George of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense and Dr Rachel Bronson, CEO and president of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

As a result of the Covid pandemic, the announcement for 2021 was made via a Zoom conference call.

The Bulletin announced: “Humanity continues to suffer as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world.

“In 2020 alone, this novel disease killed 1.7 million people and sickened at least 70 million more.

“The pandemic revealed just how unprepared and unwilling countries and the international system are to handle global emergencies properly.

“In this time of genuine crisis, governments too often abdicated responsibility, ignored scientific advice, did not cooperate or communicate effectively, and consequently failed to protect the health and welfare of their citizens.”

Indeed, since 2010 – where it was set at six minutes to midnight (11.54pm) – the clock has gradually been edging closer towards 12 at night.

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Between 2018 and 2019 the Bulletin maintained the clock’s position at two minutes to midnight (11.58pm), owing to what it called the “new abnormal”.

This term was coined to describe the threats posed by nuclear weapons technologies and climate change.

The furthest the clock’s hands have ever been away from striking 12 o’clock came in 1991, when it was set at 17 minutes to midnight (11.43pm).

During this period the Cold War had officially ended and the US and Soviet Union had agreed to reduce their respective nuclear arsenals, with the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

In fact, the clock has only been positioned more than 10 minutes away from midnight on three other occasions – 1963, 1972 and 1995.

Moreover, out of the 27 announcements that have been made by the Bulletin the Doomsday Clock has only been reset seven times.

When the clock was first revealed in 1947 its hands were positioned at seven minutes to midnight (11.53pm), reflecting the dangers the world faced at the end of WWII.

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