The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board, the clock represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war. Since 2007, it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.
The clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as "midnight" and The Bulletin's opinion on how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of "minutes" to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 23 times since then, the smallest-ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953 and 2018) and the largest seventeen (in 1991). As of January 2018[update], the clock is set at two minutes to midnight, due to "the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change", and due to the United States reducing its common-ground leadership role.
The Doomsday Clock's origin can be traced to the international group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists, who had participated in the Manhattan Project. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they began publishing a mimeographed newsletter and then the magazine, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which, since its inception, has depicted the clock on every cover. The clock was first represented in 1947, when The Bulletin co-founder Hyman Goldsmith asked artist Martyl Langsdorf (wife of Manhattan Project research associate and Szilárd petition signatory Alexander Langsdorf, Jr.) to design a cover for the magazine's June 1947 issue. As Eugene Rabinowitch, another co-founder of The Bulletin, explained later,
The Bulletin's clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age...
Langsdorf chose a clock to reflect the urgency of the problem: like a countdown, the clock suggests that destruction will naturally occur unless someone takes action to stop it.
In January 2007, designer Michael Bierut, who was on The Bulletin's Governing Board, redesigned the clock to give it a more modern feel. In 2009, The Bulletin ceased its print edition and became one of the first print publications in the U.S. to become entirely digital; the clock is now found as part of the logo on The Bulletin's website. Information about the Doomsday Clock Symposium, a timeline of the clock's settings, and multimedia shows about the clock's history and culture can also be found on The Bulletin's website.
The 5th Doomsday Clock Symposium was held on November 14, 2013, in Washington, D.C.; it was a day-long event that was open to the public and featured panelists discussing various issues on the topic "Communicating Catastrophe". There was also an evening event at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in conjunction with the Hirshhorn's current exhibit, "Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950". The panel discussions, held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, were streamed live from The Bulletin's website and can still be viewed there. Reflecting international events dangerous to humankind, the clock has been adjusted 22 times since its inception in 1947, when it was set to "seven minutes to midnight".
"Midnight" has a deeper meaning to it besides the constant threat of war. There are various things taken into consideration when the scientists from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decide what Midnight and Global catastrophe really mean a particular year. They might include "Politics, Energy, Weapons, Diplomacy, and Climate science." Potential sources of threat included nuclear threats, climate change, bioterrorism, and artificial intelligence. Members of the board judge Midnight by discussing how close they think humanity is to the end of civilization. In 1947, during the Cold War, the clock was started at seven minutes to midnight. The clock's setting is decided without a specified starting time. The clock is not set and reset in real time as events occur; rather than respond to each and every crisis as it happens, the Science and Security Board meets twice annually to discuss global events in a deliberative manner. The closest nuclear war threat, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, reached crisis, climax, and resolution before the clock could be set to reflect that possible doomsday.
The two tied-for-lowest points for the Doomsday Clock have been in 1953, when the clock was set to two minutes until midnight after the U.S. and the Soviet Union began testing hydrogen bombs, and in 2018, following the failure of world leaders to address tensions relating to nuclear weapons and climate change issues. In other years, the clock’s time has fluctuated from 17 minutes in 1991 to 2 minutes 30 seconds in 2017. Discussing the change to 2½ minutes in 2017, the first use of a fraction in the clock's history, Krauss, one of the scientists from the Bulletin, warned that our political leaders must make decisions based on facts, and those facts "must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved." In an announcement from the Bulletin about the status of the clock, they went as far to call for action from “wise” public officials and “wise” citizens to make an attempt to steer human life away from catastrophe while we still can. In January 2018, the clock was lowered further to 2 minutes to midnight, meaning that the clock's status today is tied for closest to midnight since the clock’s start in 1947.
Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute has stated that the "grab bag of threats" currently mixed together by the clock can induce paralysis. People may be more likely to succeed at smaller, incremental challenges; for example, taking steps to prevent the accidental detonation of nuclear weapons was a small but significant step in avoiding nuclear war. Alex Barasch in Slate argues that "Putting humanity on a permanent, blanket high-alert isn't helpful when it comes to policy or science", and criticizes the Bulletin for neither explaining nor attempting to quantify their methodology.
Conservative media often clash against the Bulletin. Keith Payne writes in the National Review that the clock overestimates the effects of "developments in the areas of nuclear testing and formal arms control". Tristin Hopper in the National Post acknowledges that "there are plenty of things to worry about regarding climate change", but states that climate change isn't in the same league as total nuclear destruction. In addition, some critics accuse the Bulletin of pushing a political agenda.
|Year||Minutes to midnight||Change (minutes)||Reason|
|1947||7||—||The initial setting of the Doomsday Clock.|
|1949||3||−4||The Soviet Union tests its first atomic bomb, the RDS-1, officially starting the nuclear arms race.|
|1953||2||−1||The United States tests its first thermonuclear device in November 1952 as part of Operation Ivy, before the Soviet Union follows suit in August. This is the clock's closest approach to midnight since its inception, later matched in 2018.|
|1960||7||+5||In response to a perception of increased scientific cooperation and public understanding of the dangers of nuclear weapons (as well as political actions taken to avoid "massive retaliation"), the United States and Soviet Union cooperate and avoid direct confrontation in regional conflicts such as the 1956 Suez Crisis. Scientists from various countries help establish the International Geophysical Year, a series of coordinated, worldwide scientific observations between nations allied with both the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which allow Soviet and American scientists to interact.|
|1963||12||+5||The United States and the Soviet Union sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty, limiting atmospheric nuclear testing.|
|1968||7||−5||The involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War intensifies, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 takes place, and the Six-Day War occurs in 1967. France and China, two nations which have not signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, acquire and test nuclear weapons (the 1960 Gerboise Bleue and the 1964 596, respectively) to assert themselves as global players in the nuclear arms race.|
|1969||10||+3||Every nation in the world, with the notable exceptions of India, Israel, and Pakistan, signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.|
|1972||12||+2||The United States and the Soviet Union sign the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.|
|1974||9||−3||India tests a nuclear device (Smiling Buddha), and SALT II talks stall. Both the United States and the Soviet Union modernize multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs).|
|1980||7||−2||Unforeseeable end to deadlock in American–Soviet talks as the Soviet–Afghan War begins. As a result of the war, the U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the SALT II agreement.|
|1981||4||−3||The clock is adjusted in early 1981. The Soviet war in Afghanistan toughens the U.S.' nuclear posture. U.S. President Jimmy Carter withdraws the United States from the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. The Carter administration considers ways in which the United States could win a nuclear war. Ronald Reagan becomes President of the United States, scraps further arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union, and argues that the only way to end the Cold War is to win it. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union contribute to the danger of the nuclear annihilation.|
|1984||3||−1||Further escalation of the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, with the ongoing Soviet–Afghan War intensifying the Cold War. U.S. Pershing II medium-range ballistic missile and cruise missiles are deployed in Western Europe. Ronald Reagan pushes to win the Cold War by intensifying the arms race between the superpowers. The Soviet Union and its allies (except Romania) boycott the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, as a response to the U.S-led boycott in 1980.|
|1988||6||+3||In December 1987, the clock is moved back three minutes as the United States and the Soviet Union sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles, and their relations improve.|
|1990||10||+4||The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, along with the reunification of Germany, mean that the Cold War is nearing its end.|
|1991||17||+7||The United States and Soviet Union sign the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), and the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26. This is the furthest from midnight the clock has been since its inception.|
|1995||14||−3||Global military spending continues at Cold War levels amid concerns about post-Soviet nuclear proliferation of weapons and brainpower.|
|1998||9||−5||Both India (Pokhran-II) and Pakistan (Chagai-I) test nuclear weapons in a tit-for-tat show of aggression; the United States and Russia run into difficulties in further reducing stockpiles.|
|2002||7||−2||Little progress on global nuclear disarmament. United States rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces its intentions to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, amid concerns about the possibility of a nuclear terrorist attack due to the amount of weapon-grade nuclear materials that are unsecured and unaccounted for worldwide.|
|2007||5||−2||North Korea tests a nuclear weapon in October 2006, Iran's nuclear ambitions, a renewed American emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. After assessing the dangers posed to civilization, climate change was added to the prospect of nuclear annihilation as the greatest threats to humankind.|
|2010||6||+1||Worldwide cooperation to reduce nuclear arsenals and limit effect of climate change. New START agreement is ratified by both the United States and Russia, and more negotiations for further reductions in the American and Russian nuclear arsenal are already planned. The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen results in the developing and industrialized countries agreeing to take responsibility for carbon emissions and to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.|
|2012||5||−1||Lack of global political action to address global climate change, nuclear weapons stockpiles, the potential for regional nuclear conflict, and nuclear power safety.|
|2015||3||−2||Concerns amid continued lack of global political action to address global climate change, the modernization of nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia, and the problem of nuclear waste.|
|2017||2½||−½||Rise of neo-nationalism, United States President Donald Trump's comments over nuclear weapons, the threat of a renewed arms race between the U.S. and Russia, and the expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus over climate change by the Trump Administration. This is the first use of a fraction in the time.|
|2018||2||−½||The failure of world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change. This is the clock's closest approach to midnight, matching that of 1953.|
In popular culture
- Australian rock band Midnight Oil's 1984 LP Red Sails in the Sunset features a song called "Minutes to Midnight". The album's cover shows an aerial-view rendering of Sydney after a nuclear strike. In 1984, lead singer Peter Garrett ran for a seat in the Australian Senate as a candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party. He has since been elected to Parliament as a member of the Australian Labor Party and later served as Minister for the Environment.
- The title of Iron Maiden's 1984 song "2 Minutes to Midnight" is a reference to the Doomsday Clock.
- The Doomsday Clock was a recurring visual theme in DC's seminal Watchmen comic series (1986–7) and in the 2009 film adaptation.
- The title of Linkin Park's 2007 album Minutes to Midnight is a reference to the Doomsday Clock.
- The Doomsday Clock was used as a clue in NCIS in the October 2008 episode entitled "Murder 2.0", Season 6 Episode 6. Imagery used in a video clip depicted the Doomsday Clock set to 5 minutes to midnight.
- The Doomsday Clock was featured in Madam Secretary in the March 2016 episode entitled "On the Clock", Season 2 Episode 18.
- In the 2017 Doctor Who episode "The Pyramid at the End of the World", the Monks cause every clock in the world to display a Doomsday Clock, and offer humanity their help to stop a pending cataclysmic disaster.
- The Doomsday Clock featured in Yael Bartana's What if Women Ruled the World, which premiered on July 5, 2017 at the Manchester International Festival.
- "Science and Security Board". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
- Stover, Dawn (September 26, 2013). "How Many Hiroshimas Does it Take to Describe Climate Change?". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
- "'Doomsday Clock' Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
- Chan, Sewell. "Doomsday Clock Is Set at 2 Minutes to Midnight, Closest Since 1950s". New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
- "Timeline". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. January 2015.
- Science and Security Board Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. "It is two and a half minutes to midnight" (PDF). Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
- "Doomsday Clock moving closer to midnight?". The Spokesman-Review. October 16, 2006.
- "The Doomsday Clock". The Southeast Missourian. February 22, 1984.
- "Running the 'Doomsday Clock' is a full-time job. Really". CNN. 26 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- "Doomsday Clock Symposium". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
- "A Timeline of Conflict, Culture, and Change". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- "Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950". Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. 2013.
- "5th Doomsday Clock Symposium". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved September 14, 2013.
- "Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight". Washington Post. January 10, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
- "The Doomsday Clock Is Reset: Closest To Midnight Since The 1950s". NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-04-18.
- Reynolds, Emily (25 January 2018). "What is the Doomsday Clock and why does it matter?". Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- "Timeline". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 2017-04-18.
- Koran, Laura (2018-01-25). "'Doomsday clock' ticks closer to apocalyptic midnight". CNN. Retrieved 2018-01-25.
- "Doomsday Clock Moves Closer To Midnight, We're 2 Minutes From World Annihilation". The Two-Way (NPR). 25 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- Barasch, Alex (26 January 2018). "What The Doomsday Clock Doesn't Tell Us". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- Chan, Sewell (2018). "Doomsday Clock Is Set at 2 Minutes to Midnight, Closest Since 1950s". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- "Is the Doomsday Clock Still Relevant?". Live Science. 24 February 2016. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- "Precision Prediction". National Review. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- "Why the Doomsday Clock is an idiotic indicator the world's media should ignore". National Post. 25 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- "Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight". 26 January 2017. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- "Doomsday Clock at 3'til midnight". The Daily News. December 21, 1983.
- "Hands of the 'Doomsday Clock' turned back three minutes". The Reading Eagle. December 17, 1987.
- "The North Korean nuclear test". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 2009. Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved August 4, 2009.
- "'Doomsday Clock' Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 17 January 2007. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
- "Nukes, climate push 'Doomsday Clock' forward". MSNBC. 2012-01-15. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
- "Doomsday Clock moves to five minutes to midnight". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
- Casey, Michael (22 January 2015). "Doomsday Clock moves two minutes closer to midnight". CBS News. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- "Board moves the clock ahead". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 26 January 2017. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
- Holley, Peter; Ohlheiser, Abby; Wang, Amy B. "The Doomsday Clock just advanced, 'thanks to Trump': It's now just 2½ minutes to 'midnight.'". Washington Post. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
- Bromwich, Jonah Engel (26 January 2017). "Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to Midnight, Signaling Concern Among Scientists". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
- Chappell, Bill. "The Doomsday Clock Is Reset: Closest To Midnight Since The 1950s". NPR.org. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
- Bever, Lindsey; Kaplan, Sarah; Ohlheiser, Abby (January 25, 2018). "The Doomsday Clock is now just 2 minutes to 'midnight,' the symbolic hour of the apocalypse". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
- Bowen, LB (January 24, 2017). "Doomsday Clock: Iron Maiden – Two Minutes to Midnight". OnStage Magazine. Retrieved February 11, 2017.[permanent dead link]
- Ihnat, Gwen (23 February 2017). "The people behind the Doomsday Clock explain why we're so close to midnight". AUX (AV Club). Retrieved 29 January 2018.
- Rodriguez, Dana (2007-05-25). "Linkin Park Makes 'Minutes to Midnight' Count". BMI.com. Retrieved 2017-06-05.
- "Murder 2.0". NCIS. Season 6. Episode 6. 28 October 2008. CBS.
- "Madam Secretary (2014-) "On the Clock"". IMDB. 2016-03-27. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
- "The Pyramid at the End of the World: The Fact File". BBC. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
- Judah, Hettie (2017-07-10). "What If Women Ruled the World? review – Kubrick meets covfefe as catastrophe strikes". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
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