The Doomsday Clock: Is The End Near?

The Doomsday Clock is sitting at 90 seconds to midnight as of the latest update

By Doug Norrie | Published

It happens every January of every year since its inception. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists appears from its prophetic confines to let people across the globe know just how close we are to worldwide destruction. Their device is the Doomsday Clock.

The Doomsday Clock Is At 90 Seconds To Midnight

Back in 2020, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists caused a stir when they set this Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, making this the closest we’ve been to complete world annihilation.

It was also the first time that the Doomsday Clock had gone down to seconds rather than minutes. Well, the news that came out on January 23, 2023, appears to be even direr than we were hoping.

Brace yourselves because now, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has reset the Doomsday Clock, moving it even closer to midnight. According to the group, in 2023 we now stand 90 seconds away from an unmitigated worldwide disaster. One reason we are inching closer, they say, is due to the war in the Ukraine, though they aren’t blaming the ten-second run-off completely on the war.

The group not only looks at the conflicts across the globe, but they take into account biotechnology, global climate change, and even the possibility of nuclear war. The Russian invasion of the Ukraine was a big part of the Doomsday Clock’s movement, but there are other contributing factors as well. Still, much of the focus centered on the war in the Ukraine.

Steve Fetter is the dean of the graduate school and professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and has been carefully studying the causes of the Doomsday Clock advance. “Even if nuclear use is avoided in Ukraine,” said Fetter, “the war has challenged the nuclear order — the system of agreements and understandings that have been constructed over six decades to limit the dangers of nuclear weapons.”

When former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, saw that the Doomsday Clock moved closer to midnight she said: “The Doomsday Clock is sounding an alarm for the whole of humanity. We are on the brink of a precipice. But our leaders are not acting at sufficient speed or scale to secure a peaceful and livable planet.”

One would have thought that the COVID pandemic would have caused the Doomsday Clock to tick a little faster, but since it moved to 100 seconds in 2020, it had remained there. At the time, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists claimed we were “at doom’s doorstep.” You can see the entire Doomsday Clock announcement below.

The Doomsday Clock Started In 1947

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 cease 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, the Doomsday Clock 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.

It Seems To Get Closer To Midnight Each Year

In 2018, the clock sat at 11:58, a good solid two minutes from midnight. Once it moved to the 100-second mark, they released a six-page pamphlet citing things like the 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 to justify the clock ticking closer to midnight.

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. 

Might Not Be Time To Panic, Yet

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. 

As far as a fallout bunker is concerned, it might be time to start heavily considering one. Yes, there is always the possibility that things will get better, that we will see the world step back from the ledge and not fall off of it. But there is never any harm in being prepared.

The 2022 Doomsday Clock Update Was Also Dire

At the beginning of 2022, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists got back together for another update, prepared to bum the world out once again when it came to the future prospects for long-term human viability. Depends on what side of the glass you trend towards to know if it was a good or bad update. Short story: the group didn’t move the clock at all. Essentially, we remained at the same place, 100 seconds to midnight.

In a conference call, the group offered up some of their updated thoughts and processes around not having the clock move forward or backward. They again cited nuclear armament from possibly unstable countries and somewhat increased tensions between the United States and Russia.

Of course, climate change was mentioned as well, with a little dose of disinformation campaigns sowing the seeds of collective doubt sprinkled in as well. But there were some “encouraging” signs around some recent government actions towards moving carbon neutral and no macro-wars starting in the short-term.

So, another year down and another year of moving closer to full-scale Armageddon. Although things, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and their Doomsday Clock, appear to be bleak, we still have time to turn things around. Cooler heads can prevail and we can still punch climate change into submission, but the question here is – which leaders will step up to make this all happen?