We've never been closer to global annihilation. That’s according to the Doomsday Clock, which is a symbolic representation of how close we are to destroying the world through nuclear war, the global climate emergency and disruptive technology. On the clock, midnight represents a hypothetical global catastrophe, and the number of minutes and seconds we are to midnight shows how close we are to such an event. This January we moved from one hundred to ninety seconds to midnight — the closest to annihilation we’ve ever been!

Who sets the clock?

The Doomsday Clock was introduced in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This US non-profit organisation was founded after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the same scientists that helped develop the world’s first nuclear weapons. The aim was to educate people about them. Today, eighteen experts from the fields of policy, diplomacy, military history and nuclear science make up the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. In consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes numerous Nobel laureates, they update the time on the clock every January, based on current catastrophic threats to the planet and humanity.

Backwards and forwards

Originally, the clock was used to measure the danger specifically posed by nuclear weapons; in 1947, it was set at seven minutes to midnight to represent this threat. However, in 2007, the Bulletin began considering the threat of climate change, too. It now also considers the threat posed by disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology. The furthest the clock has been from midnight was seventeen minutes in 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed. The reason it moved to its closest point this year was primarily but not exclusively Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has revived fears of nuclear war.

Turn back the clock

“We are living in a time of unprecedented danger,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She and her colleagues, past and present, have always insisted that the clock is intended not to frighten people, but to encourage them to take action to make the world a safer place. “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,” she said.