The Doomsday Clock was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight on Thursday Jan. 26, 2017.
In 1947, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock. A metaphorical clock that was designed to tell the public how close we are to destroying the world because of our own choices and decisions. It was first created to warn of the threat of nuclear weapons when the United States and the Soviet Union were in a nuclear arms race. Since 1947, it has been reset 23 times.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists “Science and Security Board” are in charge of the clock and setting it based on how vulnerable the world is to global disaster. The Bulletin engages leaders, policy makers, and interested public on topics that can affect the world’s vulnerability to disaster. They focus on many issues, from climate change to emerging technologies, but their main goal is the figure out how much of a threat our actions and developments pose to the world.
The first setting of the clock was seven minutes to midnight. In the next six years, it would be reset twice, to three minutes to midnight in 1949, and two minutes to midnight in 1953, the lowest it has ever been. In the 1960s, it fluctuated a few times between seven and 12 minutes, but dropped again to three minutes during the 1970s and the 1980s. 1991 marked the furthest away the clock had every been set from midnight, 17 minutes, but since then, it has been steadily dropping. It was set to 14 minutes to midnight in 1995, nine minutes in 1998, seven minutes in 2002, five minutes in 2007, three minutes in 2013, and most recently, 2.5 minutes to midnight this year.
The drop to three and two minutes to midnight in the early 1950s was because the United States and the Soviet Union had officially created and tested their first nuclear weapons. The threat of nuclear devices and hydrogen bombs put the world in a state of panic, knowing that both superpowers could easily destroy the other by releasing one of these weapons. When the United States and the Soviet Union became eager to avoid conflict in the late 1950s, the Doomsday Clock was set at seven minutes, assuring the world that the imminent threat of a nuclear war was no longer.
For the next 60 years, war came and went, and while threats between the US and the Soviet Union were high at times, treaties were signed, and the threat of a nuclear disaster decreased. In 2007, when the clock was moved from seven minutes to midnight to five minutes to midnight, there was also a change in the reasoning behind the move.
2007 marked the first year climate change was a major reason for changing the clock. The world had been starting to see more drought and polar ice melting, flooding, and more destructive stores. The thought that maybe nuclear warfare would not be the only threat to our world was being seriously considered, and people were starting to get worried. Still, what to do to stop climate change was a difficult answer to figure out, and we were still focused on figuring out how to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and harness nuclear power.
In 2015 though, climate change topped the list for reasons to move the clock once again. There were positive developments when it came to tackling climate change, but the efforts were not enough, and there was no clear idea of how to prevent the catastrophe climate change posed to Earth. Opinions against the idea of climate change and the increase in emerging technologies and increased talk of nuclear weapons have guided The Bulletin to once again change the clock.
2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the clock, and it has changed more times in the last decade than in any other decade since its creation, and all but once year have been closer to midnight. Over the last decade, because the threat of nuclear warfare has decreased significantly since the beginning of the nuclear arms race, the Doomsday Clock is now warning us that we need to change our actions or destroy our world to a point of no return.
One topic the Bulletin addressed in its latest issue, was the idea of harnessing nuclear power and substituting it for fossil fuels. There is no clear consensus on whether or not it is a good idea to replace fossil fuels with nuclear power, but the scientists behind the good and bad reasoning for the substitution are still trying to figure out what the best thing to do is. They all agree that climate change needs to be addressed, and that right now it is the leading cause for the destruction of our planet, but the question of how to reverse it, and move the clock back a little bit, have yet to be answered.
For now though, the Doomsday Clock is set at 2.5 minutes to midnight, reflecting the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ dissatisfaction with the progress made on reversing the threat of climate change, nuclear weapons and new technologies.