Fellow humans, we are now only 90 seconds away from our doom – otherwise known as midnight on the Doomsday Clock. It’s “a metaphor for how close humanity is to self-destruction,” according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which determines the time each year. And we’ve never been this close to the apocalypse.
Although only a metaphor, the decision to move the hands of the clock closer to midnight reflects real risks. This year these included the war in Ukraine, heightened nuclear tensions, worsening climate change and increasing disinformation campaigns.
Although only a metaphor, the decision to move the hands of the clock closer to midnight reflects real risks.
But the biggest factor this year, according to the Bulletin, was the conflict in Ukraine. You can read more about the Bulletin’s decision in their official statement, which is released each year. This is the first year the statement has been released in English, Russian and Ukrainian.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the risk of nuclear weapons use, increased the specter of the use of biological and chemical weapons, crippled the world’s response to climate change, and hampered international efforts to address other global problems” , the statement said.
The clock started at seven minutes to midnight when it was created by artist Martyl Langsdorf to grace the cover of the Bulletin magazine in 1947. Seven “just looked good to my eyes,” Langsdorf reportedly said.
The exact placement of the hands of the clock was not as important as what people did to harm or help each other. After the US dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, scientists — including some who worked on the Manhattan Project, such as Alexander Langsdorf, Martyl’s physicist husband — created the Bulletin to grapple with the consequences of developing such a powerful, earth-shattering weapon.
Since then the Bulletin has taken into account other threats people have made to themselves, such as burning fossil fuels and spreading misinformation. The time is determined by the Bulletins Science and Security Board, along with input from a Board of Sponsors, including 11 Nobel Prize winners this year.
The clock last ticked forward in 2020, when it moved to 100 seconds to midnight. At the time, that was the closest to midnight on record — and it was set before a new coronavirus turned into a pandemic later that year.
The good news is that the hands of the clock can also move backwards as people take steps to make peace and protect the planet. With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the hands of the clock returned to 17 minutes – the furthest they have ever been from midnight.