As humans we are nothing if not a negative bunch and folks have been dreaming on the end of the world for some time now. Whether it be an asteroid slamming into Earth from outer space, nuclear war, alien attacks, plagues, or anything else in between we’ve come up with just tons of ways this whole thing on our big blue orb could break bad.
And while there’s plenty we could turn to in order to signal the end of the world, a group of scientists has been trying to track things with their own device or way to “see” how much trouble we are really in. On Thursday, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists ticked their Doomsday Clock within 100 seconds of midnight, the closest we’ve ever gotten to the end of the world according to these PhDs.
Initially, I thought the news of the coronavirus coming out of China was the catalyst for this most recent move. But that doesn’t appear to be the case, so if you were thinking a worldwide plague had the scientists in a tizzy, don’t worry (I guess) because that wasn’t what did it. There’s plenty of other bad shit going down that could spell, well, doom for us all. Let’s take a look to see if Michael Stipe was right after all.
What is the Doomsday Clock?
Back in 1947, not long after the United States dropped a couple of big bombs on Japan to “end” World War II, a group from The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists got together and established the Doomsday Clock as a physical representation of how close they thought humans were to ceasing to exist. The clock striking midnight would be the end of it all. It’s quite the paradox seeing as how no one will ever be able to take credit for being right about the timing seeing as how no one will theoretically be around for the end.
To be fair, while maintained by scientists, this isn’t necessarily an accurate representation or even a straight-up predictive measurement of armageddon but rather more a not-so-gentle reminder about the things we humans have “control” over which could cause mass extinction.
Up until now, the group has only moved the clock in one minute or thirty-second intervals, mostly ticking it down but every once in a while moving it further away from midnight. During the Cold War the clock was mostly correlated with US-USSR relations seeing as how both countries could just bomb each other into the stone age. If they were getting along it moved away from midnight? If things were rocky, it ticked closer.
How Close Have We Gotten To Armageddon In The Past?
It’s been two years since the clock moved, having sat at 11:58 since 2018. In their paper at the time, a six-page pamphlet you can read if you feel like getting extremely bummed out, the BAS cited things like threat of nuclear war, climate change, “lack of trust in political institutions”, emerging technologies that could spiral out of control, a little North Korea thrown in, a sprinkling of Trump and other cataclysmic odds and ends. They give some suggestions on how to turn back the clock as well, but it’s mostly a downer read.
The clock has moved 23 times before, getting as far away as 11:43 in 1991 thanks to successful nuclear disarmament talks with the US and the USSR. But that was more an outlier than anything else. Over time it’s moved about every 2-3 years without any set deadlines and usually just gets closer to the big and little hand on the twelve.
Why Did The Doomsday Clock Move This Time?
In their paper published on Thursday, the Bulletin cites much of the same including an increasing unwillingness by global powers to reign in the nuclear weapon situation with Iran looking like one of the main “culprits” and North Korea not abiding by negotiated deals.
Meanwhile, while Greta Thurnberg continues her fight with global leaders over the Earth warming at an alarming clip, climate change is still cited as a major reason for concern with scientists basically begging humans to act ASAP on global warming.
And finally, good old technology is still very much on the Bulletin’s minds with everything from artificial intelligence and bioweapons to “fake news” and dissemination of false information as reasons for mass global concern.
Should We Build A Fallout Bunker?
Again, this clock isn’t a one-for-one scientific measure. If so, it wouldn’t move in such convenient and digestible timelines (30 seconds, one minute, etc) but is instead a “nice” physical prompt for the presentation by those who are worried about the fate of human existence.
So no, I don’t think it’s time to stock up on cans or pull strangers into our back yard fort. But it does act as a not-so-pleasant reminder of things we can improve on because time could be running out.