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100 Seconds to Midnight – The Doomsday Clock

By Shannan Dower

According the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we are closer to annihilation than we ever were at the height of the Cold War. In the past, nuclear weapons were all that were considered in the judgement of the time on the clock, but in recent years, it has become increasingly clear that man-made catastrophes might not stem from nuclear war. According to a press release from the Bulletin, it is a “universally recognised indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies in other domains”. A grim reminder.

The clock works by indicating how close we are to ‘midnight’, ‘midnight’ in this system representing a man-made global catastrophe. Ghus the Clock intends to measure how close humanity is to the hypothetical disaster. The reliability of the Doomsday Clock has often been a subject of intense debate, considering that there is no statistical basis of the time- it is simply decided by a group of experts, including fifteen living Nobel prize laureates. The clock has also never reached ever 20 minutes from midnight, so our situation may be comparatively less dire than it sounds.Is this system mere fearmongering, or does it contain warnings we should heed more seriously?

Though, it originally began as an indicator and warning for impending nuclear war or destruction…Why? The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947, by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – an organisation established by scientists in 1945. Many of these founders were involved with the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bombs that would be used on Japan to end WWII. Once the war ended, they felt they “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work.” Therefore, their main concern was for nuclear weapons.

1949 saw the clock moved forward to three minutes to midnight, due to the emergence of the Soviet Union as a nuclear power. The Arms Race, a defining characteristic of the Cold War, was now in full force. Thus, in October 1952, the U.S. tested the first thermonuclear device, followed by the USSR nine months later – leading to the decision for the Clock to be changed to two minutes to midnight.

Arguably, 1962 is the closest humanity has come to nuclear annihilation, with the tense ten days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was not reflected in the clock shift, as a Partial Ban Test Treaty was signed, pushing the Clock back to twelve minutes in 1963.

It was in 2007 that the Bulletin decided to factor climate change into their decisions, which depending on opinion is now the main reason why we move ever closer to midnight, a fact often glossed over by mainstream media in preference for fearmongering tactics about nuclear war.

In 2018, the Clock was moved to two minutes to midnight, only reached before when hydrogen bombs were first developed and tested. And now, on January 23, 2020, we are “closer than ever”. 100 seconds to midnight, due to “two simultaneous existential dangers”.

The Clock has been changed many times across the past few decades, though a release is only published if the Clock’s time is altered. The entire history of the Doomsday Clock spans 74 years, and has seen radical changes, reflective of our peace that can be unstable or doubted.

Ultimately the Doomsday Clock is a representation of a professional opinion, and thus should be respected. However, it is a prime example of not taking things for face value – you must process information and research yourself to make the best judgement, and understand where this number of one hundred seconds comes from, to avoid falling into a trap of fearmongering. Nonetheless, the Doomsday Clock is also an interesting way to interpret the history of nuclear warfare and development.


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