Is the Doomsday Clock a real thing?
From nuclear weapons to climate change, the Doomsday Clock symbolizes how close we are to the end of the world.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
Scientists on Tuesday morning will unveil a clock that represents not time but the end of time – marking just how close humanity could be to self-annihilation.
It’s the annual reset of what’s come to be known as the Doomsday Clock, a 76-year project of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists featuring a clock face that is a visual representation, one where midnight is Armageddon.
The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists who helped 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.
“It’s a way to remind people of issues that are so big they post a threat to civilization as a whole,” said Steve Fetter, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and member of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, which sets the clock each year.
Each year, the clock has ticked minutes or seconds toward or away from catastrophe. Wars bring it closer, treaties and cooperation further away.
For the past two years, it has been stuck at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it’s ever come to cataclysm. In recent years, the threat of human-caused disasters such as climate change has also been factored into the clock’s setting.
The clock will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Eastern time. Here’s what to know:
Who sets the Doomsday Clock?
Each January for the past 76 years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published a new Doomsday Clock setting, showing just how close – or far – its experts believe humanity is from the brink.
The clock “conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making,” according to the group.
Tuesday’s update is the first since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 renewed fears of global nuclear war.
Historically, the clock has measured the danger of nuclear disaster, but that’s not the only apocalyptic scenario being considered. Climate change, bioterrorism, artificial intelligence and the damage done by mis- and disinformation also have been included in the mix of possible cataclysms.
The 22 members of the Science and Security Board are asked two questions that help them determine the clock’s new setting for the year:
- Is humanity safer or at greater risk this year than last year?
- Is humanity safer or at greater risk compared to the 76 years the clock has been set?
Who started the Doomsday Clock?
In 1945, on the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project that built the world’s first atomic bombs began publishing a mimeographed newsletter called The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Two years later, as those same scientists contemplated a world in which two atomic weapons had been used in Japan, they gathered to discuss the threat to humanity posed by nuclear war. Their worry was that the public didn’t realize just how dangerous — and different — nuclear weapons were from the warfare humanity has grappled with for tens of thousands of years.
“It was way back after the nuclear genie broke in the 1940s that the scientists came to the politicians and said, ‘Look, this is too dangerous to leave to state rivalry. We have to do something about controlling the genie,'” said Paul Hare, who teaches global studies at Boston University and was former British diplomat who headed the United Kingdom’s department of nuclear non-proliferation.
It came to be called the Doomsday Clock.
The yearly setting isn’t meant to scare people, but instead to remind regular people and the governments they elect how much power they have to change scenarios and move things to a calmer and safer place.
Doomsday history since 1947
Key events in history