Doomsday clock remains at two minutes to midnight, closest setting to Apocalypse

The Doomsday Clock Reveal

By Lily Qi
Medill Reports

The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists announced Thursday that the hands on the Doomsday Clock remain at two minutes to midnight in  “a new abnormal” world situation with little progress made on limiting nuclear risks, climate change dangers and cybersecurity threats.

The hands of the clock freeze where they were last year and also in 1953, the closest to midnight since the clock was first set in 1947 to measure our proximity to Cold War Armageddon. Rachel Bronson, President and CEO of the Bulletin organization, along with other board members and scholars, revealed the clock’s setting for the coming year.

“The Science and Security Board members had been looking at the trend over last two or three years and they have felt that the unrevealing international dialogues and international treaties is taking us back to a time like the beginning of the Cold War,” said Kennette Benedict, former executive director and current senior advisor at the Bulletin. “Today, I think the board sees the parallel with that time.”​​

During his administration, President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) as well as the 2015 Paris agreement to control carbon dioxide emissions. All three moves involve major threats to humanity in terms of nuclear and environmental risks while cyber-enabled information warfare is endangering the whole information ecosystem, according to the statement released by the Bulletin.  Civilization is now in the “new abnormal” state which is unpredictable and as disruptive as “the most dangerous times of the Cold War,” according t o the statement.

Board members of the Bulletin at the Jan 24 announcement. Photo courtesy by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

“These things are happening and they would have been unthinkable and very worrisome even a decade or two decades ago. It used to be this once-in-a-century type of event and now they are happening all the time. This is all unprecedented but it’s becoming normalized and people are getting used to it,” said University of Chicago astrophysicist Daniel Holz,  a member at the Bulletin Science and Security Board.

Staying at two minutes to midnight is a warning of potential apocalypse that all humanity is facing, he pointed out.

“People that study this see many scenarios that are very frightening,” said Holz. “It’s very easy to see how we slide from where we are now to into this terrible place and we just can’t assume that is going to be okay.”

The message the Bulletin clock conveys to global political leaders, scientists and other decision-makers is clear: act immediately and responsibly before it is too late.

“We hope they would look at these large forces that are burying down on civilizations and begin to come to grips with them,” said Benedict. “The Doomsday Clock is a way of trying to wake people up and get them to pay attention to longer-term issues which have the unfortunate characteristics of being able to really end our civilizations.”

The clock was set at two minutes last year due to “reckless approaches toward nuclear weapons and a growing disregard for the expertise needed to address today’s biggest challenges, most importantly climate change,” according to the Bulletin statement.

The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who believed humanity must monitor and control the use of nuclear power. Since its invention in 1947, the Doomsday Clock had been reset back and forth 23 times. The clock strikes its minutes as a symbolic metaphor for measuring distance between current and potential human destruction caused by nuclear wars, climate change and information warfare.

Photo at top:  The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists announced Thursday that the Doomsday Clock remains set at at two minutes to midnight. Gov. Jerry Brown of California, the new executive chair of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, stands next to the clock. (Courtesy of The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists/The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists)