Image: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Photo.
Scientists who predict the future of the end of the world gathered today to once again say we’re still pretty close. The Doomsday Clock will stay at 100 seconds to midnight, the same place it’s been since 2020.
Every year, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists—a group of scientists and security experts who study humanity’s proximity to extinction—gathers to quantify how screwed we are. In 2020, the Bulletin set the clock at 100 seconds to midnight. Trump was still in office, nuclear tensions were on the rise, and cyber threats were burgeoning. COVID had not yet spread like wildfire across the planet.
The clock remained at 100 seconds to midnight in 2021 as COVID’s death toll increased, little was done about climate change, and tensions with nuclear tensions with China and Russia escalated. According to the Bulletin, the world isn’t in a better place in 2022. “Today, the members of the Science and Security board find the world to be no safer than it was at this time and therefore have decided to set the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight,” Rachel Bronson, CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said during the press conference announcing the time.
An unmoving Doomsday Clock can look like stability. The scientists said this was not the case. “The Doomsday Clock is holding steady at 100 seconds to midnight,” Sharon Squasson, a research professor at George Washington University and member of the co-chair of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, said during the press conference. “But steady is not good news, in fact it reflects the judgment of the board that we are stuck in a perilous moment. One that brings neither stability nor security.”
The Bulletin releases a report coinciding with the time reveal that details what it sees as the major threats to humanity. This year, its major themes are climate change, nuclear annihilation, biological threats, and disruptive technology. “Cyberattackers have grown more audacious,” the report said. “The SolarWinds hack, an attack on Microsoft Exchange that affected millions around the world, and a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline (resolved only with the payment of $4.4 million to get the system up and running again) all demonstrate the far-reaching ramifications of cyber-vulnerabilities.”
In the world of nuclear weapons, things look bleaker than they have since the end of the Cold War. The Biden administration and Russia have agreed to renew New START, an Obama era treaty aimed at reducing the amount of nuclear weapons. But Russia continues to develop new types of nuclear weapons and seems about to invade Ukraine. China, once a global superpower with a shockingly low amount of nuclear weapons, is building new missile silos indicating an expansion of its nuclear arsenal. Iran and the U.S. are talking about reviving the scuttled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but Iran also continues to build a stockpile of enriched uranium. North Korea continues missile tests undeterred.
Along with the news of our impending doom, the Bulletin also noted that 2022 is the 75th anniversary for the Doomsday Clock. Founded in 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began as a collection of scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project publishing a newsletter about their concerns. Martyl Langsdorf, an artist and the wife of a Manhattan Project research assistant, designed the clock that’s become the symbol of the Bulletin. It appeared on the cover of the first magazine the Bulletin published in 1947.
It’s striking minimalist style and grim portent of doom struck a nerve. Since its inception, the Doomsday Clock has appeared across pop culture. Most famously, the clock ticks down in Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic before landing at midnight in the final issue. It also appeared in songs by Iron Maiden and Linkin Park, an episode of Doctor Who, and in television shows like Criminal Minds and Madame Secretary.
To celebrate the grim anniversary of the clock’s creation, the Bulletin brought on YouTuber Hank Green to talk about the importance of communicating science to the public. It’s also running a #TurnBackTheClock challenge, asking people to share what can be done to avoid the obliteration of our species on social media.
“This year marks the 75h anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, one of the most powerful pieces of graphic representation, one of the most effective pieces of science communication, and one of the best examples of the power that art and science can have when they come together in informed and collaborative ways,” Bronson said. “While the Doomsday Clock serves as a metaphor, the challenges it represents are very very real.”