Humankind closest to its doom at 90 seconds to midnight, says the Doomsday Clock

By Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

The world is ten seconds closer to its doom, the closest it has ever been, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists which sets the Doomsday Clock.

The clock now stands just 90 seconds from midnight, midnight signifying the human race’s doom. A combination of factors has prompted scientists and other world leaders to make that determination, including the Russia-Ukraine war, climate crisis, pandemics, bio-threats and even disinformation coupled with disruptive technology.

“We are living in a time of unprecedented danger, and the Doomsday Clock time reflects that reality. 90 seconds to midnight is the closest the Clock has ever been set to midnight, and it’s a decision our experts do not take lightly. The US government, its NATO allies and Ukraine have a multitude of channels for dialogue; we urge leaders to explore all of them to their fullest ability to turn back the Clock,” said Dr. Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin.

The clock stood at 100 seconds to midnight since 2020 but in the last two years the world has seen some disturbing developments on all the threat-fronts recognized by the Bulletin, which includes ten Nobel laureates.

A statement accompanying the advance of ten seconds said, “Russia’s war on Ukraine has raised profound questions about how states interact, eroding norms of international conduct that underpin successful responses to a variety of global risks. And worst of all, Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict—by accident, intention, or miscalculation—is a terrible risk. The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high . . .. Russia has also brought its war to the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor sites, violating international protocols and risking widespread release of radioactive materials. Efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to secure these plants so far have been rebuffed.”

Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was quoted as saying, “The Doomsday Clock is sounding an alarm for the whole of humanity. We are on the brink of a precipice. But our leaders are not acting at sufficient speed or scale to secure a peaceful and livable planet. From cutting carbon emissions to strengthening arms control treaties and investing in pandemic preparedness, we know what needs to be done. The science is clear, but the political will is lacking. This must change in 2023 if we are to avert catastrophe. We are facing multiple, existential crises. Leaders need a crisis mindset.”

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Three years ago, I helped unveil the Doomsday Clock when its hands were last moved. Today they are even closer to midnight, showing how much more perilous our world has become in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events and Russia’s outrageous war on Ukraine. Leaders did not heed the Doomsday Clock’s warnings in 2020. We all continue to pay the price. In 2023 it is vital for all our sakes that they act.”

In the category of threats posed by nuclear weapons, the statement mentions the U.S., Russia, China, North Korea India and Pakistan. “India continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal of some 160 warheads, with new delivery systems now under development to complement or replace existing nuclear-capable aircraft, land-based delivery systems, and sea-based systems. Pakistan has an arsenal of similar size and continues to expand its warheads, delivery systems, and fissile material production,” it said.

On China, it said, “China’s considerable expansion of its nuclear capabilities is particularly troubling, given its consistent refusal to consider measures to enhance transparency and predictability. The US Defense Department claims Beijing may increase its arsenal fivefold by 2035 and could soon rival the nuclear capabilities of the United States and Russia, with unpredictable consequences for stability.”

“The United States, Russia, and China are now pursuing full-fledged nuclear weapons modernization programs, setting the table for a dangerous new “third nuclear age” of competition. Long-standing concerns about arms racing in South Asia and missile arms races in Northeast Asia complete a dismal picture that needs to be addressed,” it said.

The nuclear threat is, of course, just one part of the combination. The Bulletin also mentions the climate crisis pushed by continuing carbon dioxide emissions, saying this: “Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, after having rebounded from the COVID economic decline to an all-time high in 2021, continued to rise in 2022 and hit another record high. A decline in Chinese emissions was overshadowed by a rise in the US, India, and elsewhere.”

Apart from the threat posed by pandemics such as the COVID-19 as well laboratory accidents causing widespread biohazard, the Bulletin makes a remarkable reference to the grave danger posed by disinformation and disruptive technology. “Cyber-enabled disinformation continues unabated. In the United States, political opposition to a “Disinformation Governance Board” proposed by the Department of Homeland Security was grounded in willful misrepresentation and the politics of personal destruction. But non-substantive and misleading as its messages were, the opposition succeeded in causing the department to withdraw its proposal. These types of attacks are hardly new but are emblematic of corruption in the information environment,” it said.

What lends the Doomsday Clock enormous credibility that it was created by the Bulletin which was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Eugene Rabinowitch and University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. The Clock was created in 1947.

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