The new time on the Doomsday Clock was announced on Tuesday (January 24) — it is now 90 seconds to midnight.
So what is the Doomsday Clock, who started it and and when, and what was the time on it last year?
What is the Doomsday Clock?
The symbolic clock is a decades-long project of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the US. It features a clock face where midnight represents Armageddon.
Experts in their fields, including 11 Nobel laureates, annually set the hands of the clock according to the world’s future. The time had been set at 100 seconds to midnight last year.
The new time answers two important questions: is humanity safer or at greater risk this year compared with 2022? And is humanity safer or at greater risk this year compared with the more than 75 years we have been asking the question?
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Moving the clock ten-seconds forwards was largely (though not exclusively) because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine, the Bulletin said.
“The threats are even more acute, and the failures of leadership even more damning,” Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told USA Today. “We live today in a world of interlocking crises, each illustrating the unwillingness of leaders to act in the true long-term interests of their people.”
The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists who helped to develop the first atomic weapons at the Manhattan Project. Two years later, they launched the clock as a way to warn humanity just how close to nuclear apocalypse the world was.
However, over the years, new threats such as bio and cybersecurity labelled “disruptive technologies” have also been considered. Climate change is another threat to humanity that has been taken into account.
Over the past 75 years, the hands of the clock have moved either backwards or forwards. This is according to whether steps were taken to address potentially civilisation-ending threats.
The furthest it has ever been is 17 minutes, following the end of the Cold War in 1991.
The clock is located at the Bulletin offices in the Keller Center, home to the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
The Bulletin has emphasised that the clock is not intended to make people fearful, but rather to spur everyone to action.
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What did the previous time on the clock indicate?
In 2020, the Bulletin set the hands of the clock at 100 seconds to midnight and this remained unchanged until today. The clock had been set at two minutes in 2018 and left unchanged in 2019. It was originally set at seven minutes to midnight.
Scientists warned last year that the world was “no safer” than it was from the previous year, leaving the 100 seconds to midnight unchanged.
This followed fears of nuclear annihilation being caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.