Like the sands of the hourglass, the world is slipping toward self-destruction one second at a time, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concluded Thursday, once again setting the hands of the famed Doomsday clock at 100 seconds to midnight.
For the third year in a row, the clock was set in seconds, not minutes, to show urgency behind the metaphor of how close the Earth is to annihilation.
“Steady is not good news. In fact, it reflects the judgment of the board that we are stuck in a perilous moment, one that brings neither stability nor security,” Sharon Squassoni, co-chair of the Science and Security Board for the Bulletin and a professor at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University, said at a press conference.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the clock in 1947 to represent how close the planet was to annihilation by nuclear weapons. In more recent years, the journal has also weighed the effects of climate change and other emerging threats in setting the clock.
On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the clock, the bulletin’s experts outlined a host of threats facing the world, from disinformation stoking division, an increase in global tensions fueling a nuclear arms race, a pandemic highlighting nation’s inability to battle increasingly frequent outbreaks, and climate change exacerbating natural disasters and global instability.
The group noted that power struggles continue to exacerbate the world’s risk of destruction, with the extension of the New START nuclear treaty offset by nuclear ambitions in Iran, North Korea, India and Pakistan, while competition between the U.S., China and Russia only adds to instability on a security front.
“The Doomsday Clock is not set by good intentions, but rather by evidence of action, or in this case inaction,” Scott D. Sagan, a Stanford University professor, told reporters. “Signs of nuclear arms races are clear.”
Disinformation also played a particularly notable role in keeping the clock at the closest point to midnight in history, with experts noting its impact on democracy, climate change, and the pandemic, with an increasing number of people falsely believing in widespread voter fraud, skeptical of vaccination, and disinterested in curbing behavior that warms the planet.
“The resulting factors mean a world in which different and antagonistic political tribes each live in their own factual universes. This is not a world governed by reason or reality and is itself an existential threat to modern civilization as we have come to know it,” said Herb Lin, a senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Rachel Bronson, president of the Bulletin, noted that global challenges had changed little since 2021, when the clock stayed at 100 seconds to midnight in a reflection of optimism over the election of President Bidenand pronouncements to address the threat of nuclear weapons, through the New START missile treaty with Russia and an intention to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.
“We continue to believe that human beings can manage the dangers posed by modern technology even in times of crisis. But if humanity is to avoid an existential catastrophe, one that would dwarf anything it has yet seen, national leaders must do a far better job of countering disinformation, heeding science and cooperating to diminish global risks,” she said.
“The COVID 19 pandemic serves as a historic wake up call, a vivid illustration, that national governments and international organizations are unprepared to manage complex and dangerous challenges like those of nuclear weapons and climate change, which currently puts existential threat to humanity, or other dangers including more virulent pandemics [or] next generation warfare that could threaten civilization in the near future.”
2020 marked the first time the doomsday clock moved to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it’s ever been to the endpoint for destruction and the first time it was measured in seconds rather than minutes, reflecting the urgency of the moment.
The announcement reflected an increase in tensions between the U.S. and Iran that came in January of that year with the U.S.’ targeted killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, and the growing dangers of failing to address climate change.
The 2020 announcement, made in January, occurred ahead of the World Health Organization declaring the quickly circulating coronavirus a global pandemic.
—Updated at 5:50 p.m.