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Our PickDoomsday Clock: Why does it matter?

Doomsday Clock: Why does it matter?

Published: 3rd Feb 2021 5:50 pm

The hands of the ‘Doomsday Clock’, a visual depiction of how vulnerable the world is to a climate or nuclear catastrophe, remained at ‘100 seconds to midnight’ for the second consecutive year — the closest it has been to the symbolic annihilation of humanity.

A sign of possible disaster

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The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded by Albert Einstein and students from the University of Chicago in 1945, created the ‘Doomsday Clock’ as a symbol to represent how close the world is to a possible disaster.

It is set annually by a panel of scientists based on the threats that the world faced in that year. When it was first created in 1947, the hands of the clock were placed based on the threat posed by nuclear weapons, which the scientists then perceived to be the greatest threat to humanity.

Significance of the clock

The reason the scientists selected a clock to convey the metaphor is twofold. That is- they wanted to use the imagery of an apocalypse (midnight) as well as the “contemporary idiom of a nuclear explosion” (countdown to zero) to illustrate the threats to humanity.

The clock was originally set to seven minutes to midnight and has since moved closer or further away from the dreaded 12 o’clock position. The furthest it has been is 17 minutes after the end of the Cold War in 1991.

‘100 seconds to midnight’

One of the major reasons the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the ‘Doomsday Clock’ to ‘100 seconds to midnight’ this year was due to the debilitating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Addressing the world’s nuclear landscape, the Bulletin said the US and Russia continued to accelerate their nuclear modernisation efforts, while North Korea, China, India, and Pakistan pursued “improved” and larger nuclear forces. It urged world leaders to eliminate the threat posed by nuclear weapons for good.

Pandemic was not a grave threat

Many assumed that the clock would inch even closer to midnight due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But scientists at the Bulletin said that while the pandemic was a tragedy, it was not an existential threat and could not destroy civilisation.

A glimmer of hope

According to the Bulletin, all hope is not lost yet. The organisation welcomed the election of US President Joe Biden and the steps he has already taken to combat climate change and commitment to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change. The moves represent a first step in healing one of the deepest rifts between the United States and the rest of the world.

Appeal to world leaders

The statement concluded with a list of steps for world leaders to initiate this year. The Bulletin urged leaders to set more ambitious and comprehensive limits of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, accelerate biological research, push for more decarbonisation and also combat internet-enabled misinformation.


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