Doomsday Clock Anticipates Impending Catastrophe


Threat Level Midnight: a legendary film produced by Michael Scott, or a warning of the nuclear apocalypse? While there is no doubt in my mind that Threat Level Midnight was nothing less than a masterpiece, these days, those words mean something a lot more sinister than a comedic home-movie.

After World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a group of scientists, a few of whom worked on the Manhattan project and the development of the atomic bomb, met up to voice their misgivings about the fate of the world in troubled times such as theirs.

The Collins English Dictionary defines the Doomsday Clock as an image of a clock face representing the number of minutes remaining prior to midnight before the onset of a global catastrophe.

When referring to a global catastrophe, scientists not only look at the threat of nuclear war, but also at climate change,and other man-made catastrophes. During the period ranging from the beginning of the Doomsday Clock in 1947 to 2018, the Clock has ticked from 17 to 2 minutes away from destruction. For example, the Clock was at three minutes to midnight, which had foreshadowed the start of the arms race with the Soviet Union.

The bulletin then stated the following:  “The Soviet Union denies it, but in the fall, President Harry Truman tells the American public that the Soviets tested their first nuclear device, officially starting the arms race. We do not advise Americans that Doomsday is near and that they can expect atomic bombs to start falling on their heads a month or year from now,” the Bulletin explained. “But we think they have reason to be deeply alarmed and to be prepared for grave decisions.”

Then, in 1953 for the first time in history, the Clock was moved to two minutes to midnight. This time, the bulletin read, “After much debate, the United States decides to pursue the hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more powerful than any atomic bomb. In October 1952, the United States tests its first thermonuclear device, obliterating a Pacific Ocean islet in the process; nine months later, the Soviets test an H-bomb of their own. The hands of the Clock of Doom have moved again,” the Bulletin announced. “Only a few more swings of the pendulum, and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilization.”

Luckily, the world managed to avoid nuclear annihilation, and the clock ticked from 2 minutes to midnight to 7 minutes in 1960 and finally, 12 minutes in 1963 with the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty.

The farthest away from midnight the world has ever been was in 1991. The Bulletin explained this decision, stating that “With the Cold War officially over, the United States and Russia begin making deep cuts to their nuclear arsenals. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty greatly reduces the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed by the two former adversaries. Better still, a series of unilateral initiatives remove most of the intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers in both countries from hair-trigger alert. The illusion that tens of thousands of nuclear weapons are a guarantor of national security has been stripped away.”

Since 1991, the Clock has been ticking closer towards midnight. This is mainly because of conflict between the United States and Russia,  North Korea, and occasionally, India and Pakistan. Long story short, in recent years, the most likely global catastrophe to wipe hmanity of the planet is a nuclear war.

In 2017, the Clock was set at 2 and a half minutes to midnight, alarming the general populace. A headline for CNN read, “Humanity is edging closer to the End.” The statement for that year warned of an urgent need for action by government officials, stating that, “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon. In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

Clearly, steps to prevent the nuclear apocalypse weren’t taken by “wise public officials”, and so, we are now 2 minutes to midnight in 2018. The last statement by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is notably longer than in the past, and notes the role of social media in this millenium.

The statement reads, “The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future is lamentable—but that failure can be reversed. It is two minutes to midnight, but the Doomsday Clock has ticked away from midnight in the past…The world has seen the threat posed by the misuse of information technology and witnessed the vulnerability of democracies to disinformation. But there is a flip side to the abuse of social media. Leaders react when citizens insist they do so, and citizens around the world can use the power of the internet to improve the long-term prospects of their children and grandchildren. They can insist on facts, and discount nonsense. They can demand action to reduce the existential threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate change. They can seize the opportunity to make a safer and saner world.”

The world managed to avoid a global catastrophe in the past; now, it’s time to do it again.