When the Doomsday Clock goes off, it shows how close we are to…doom

25th January, 2022.      //   General Interest  // 

For the past 75 years, the Doomsday Clock has been ticking away at the same time. But this isn’t your typical clock.

The Doomsday Clock remained at 100 seconds to midnight in 2022 -- the same time it's been set as since 2020.

The Doomsday Clock remained at 100 seconds to midnight in 2022 — the same time it’s been set as since 2020.

It tries to figure out how near humanity is to destroying the planet.
Since the year 2020, the clock has been set at a constant 100 seconds till midnight on Thursday.
Conforming to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists), the clock was devised in 1947 to initiate discussions about challenging scientific problems such as climate change rather than to definitively gauge existential risks to humanity.

“The Board’s judgment that we are stuck in a perilous moment — one that brings neither stability nor security,” said Sharon Squassoni, co-chair of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, which sets the clock. “Positive developments in 2021 failed to counteract negative, long-term trends,” she said. Squasson is also a research professor at George Washington University’s Institute for International Science and Technology Policy.

Why do you need the Doomsday Clock?
During World War II, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was an organization of atomic scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, which was the name given to the creation of the atomic weapon.

Originally, it was conceived to measure nuclear threats, but in 2007 the Bulletin made the decision to include climate change in its calculations. Over the last three-quarters of a century, the clock’s time has changed, according to how close the scientists believe the human race is to total destruction. Some years the time changes, and some years it doesn’t. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by the experts on the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 11 Nobel laureates.
Although the clock has been an effective wake-up call when it comes to reminding people about the cascading crises the planet is facing, some have questioned the 75-year-old clock’s usefulness. “It’s an imperfect metaphor,” Michael E. Mann, climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, told CNN, highlighting that the clock’s framing combines different types of risk that have different characteristics and occur in different timescales. Still, he adds it “remains an important rhetorical device that reminds us, year after year, of the tenuousness of our current existence on this planet.”

Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and former member of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, said it’s difficult to take the clock’s conclusions seriously because civilization has been dangerously close to extinction in recent decades. Scientists would have to calculate how much “real estate” is left each year as the clock approaches midnight before choosing how far the clock should be moved, he added, before deciding how far the clock should be moved.
“It used to take minutes, but now it takes seconds,” Krauss told the press. “It’s evident that it’s a qualitative rather than a quantitative assessment, and the movement of the clock has always been more important than its absolute value.”

Every model has constraints, said Eryn MacDonald, analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program, adding that the Bulletin has made thoughtful decisions each year on how to get the people’s attention about existential threats and the required action.
“While I wish we could go back to talking about minutes to midnight instead of seconds, unfortunately that no longer reflects reality,” she told the press.

When the clock strikes midnight, what happens?
Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of Bulletin, hopes that it never will, and the clock has never struck midnight.
“When the clock strikes midnight, it symbolizes that humanity has been wiped out by some type of nuclear war or terrible climate change,” she explained. “As a result, we never really want to get there, and when we do, we won’t even realize it.”

What is the clock’s accuracy?
The time on the clock isn’t designed to be a threat indicator, but rather to elicit public interest in scientific themes like climate change and nuclear disarmament. Bronson considers it a success if the clock is able to do so.
People pay attention when a new time is set on the clock, she said. When discussing the global climate problem, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to the Doomsday Clock at the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow, according to Bronson.
Bronson said she hopes people will discuss whether they agree with their decision and have fruitful talks about what the driving forces of the change are. It’s still possible to move the clock back with bold, concrete actions. In fact, the hand has moved farthest away from midnight with a whopping 17 minutes before midnight in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush’s administration signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Soviet Union. In 2016, the clock was at three minutes before midnight as a result of the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord.

What can a person do if he or she wants to rewind the clock?
According to Bronson, don’t underestimate the importance of discussing these crucial problems with your peers.
You may not feel it because you are not doing anything, but she explained, “We know that public participation motivates leaders to act.” Look at your daily activities and see if there are any little changes you can make in your life to combat climate change, such as how often you walk instead of driving and how your home is heated, according to Bronson.

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