The ‘doomsday clock’ (Doomsday Clock), which represents how much the human species has left for its total destruction, has remained this Thursday 100 seconds from the final chime, just as the atomic scientists in charge of handling its hands had left it just a year ago. . The decision not to back down for a single second is due to the persistence of risks posed by nuclear proliferation, biological weapons, climate change, the pandemic and misinformation, “which undermines rational decision-making”. At least, there is the consolation that it has not advanced either.
But that it has not moved is not good news. “We are caught in a dangerous moment, which brings neither stability nor security,” says Sharon Squassoni, one of the editors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which manages this symbolic countdown.
The also called ‘doomsday clock‘, located at the University of Chicago, was created in 1947 in the face of growing nuclear danger and rising tensions between the two blocs. Since then, it has become a universally recognized indicator of vulnerability of the worlding. The clock moves closer to or further from midnight depending on the global political, scientific and military situation.
Worse than in the Cold War
Last year, scientists decided to move the clock forward 20 seconds, so that the apocalypse was only 100 seconds away. In this way, the world was closer than ever to total destruction, with an even greater risk than it was at the height of the Cold War. The causes were, as they explained, the threat of atomic weapons, climate change and the war of disinformation. Although scientists now positively value the change in the US administration, in the hands of President Biden -extension of the New START arms agreement, reincorporation into the Paris climate agreement, return of science, etc.-, the negative trends have continued .
As they explain, US relations with Russia and China remain tense and the three countries are engaged in a series of nuclear expansion and modernization efforts. If the drives of these countries to develop hypersonic missiles and the continued testing of anti-satellite weapons by many nations are not curtailed, “these efforts could mark the beginning of a new and dangerous nuclear arms race,” they say. They are also concerned about North Korea’s unrestricted nuclear and missile expansion and Russian troop deployments along the Ukrainian border.
The scientists also note that for many countries, there is still a large gap between long-term greenhouse gas reduction promises and the short- and medium-term emission reduction actions needed to achieve those goals.
Insufficient response to Covid-19
Furthermore, although developed countries improved their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in the last year, “the global response remained totally insufficient”. Plans for rapid global distribution of vaccines “collapsed, leaving poorer countries largely unvaccinated and allowing new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to gain an unwanted boost.” Beyond the pandemic, in the opinion of the authors of the document, the worrying lapses in biosafety and bioprotection made it clear that the international community must pay close attention to the management of biological research. Furthermore, they believe that a new biological arms race has begun.
Likewise, although the new US government made progress in re-establishing the role of science and evidence in public policy, “the corruption of the information ecosystem continued apace in 2021.” In the US, a wave of internet-enabled lies persuaded a significant portion of the American public to believe the completely false narrative that Joe Biden did not win the 2020 presidential election. For scientists, continued efforts to foster this narrative “threaten American democracy.”
In view of this threat environment, the members of the Science and Safety Board have considered that the world is no safer than it was last year at this time and have therefore decided to leave the clock at 100 seconds for midnight. “This decision does not suggest, in any way, that the international security situation has stabilized. On the contrary, the clock remains as close as it has ever been to the civilization-ending apocalypse because the world is still caught in an extremely dangerous moment. In 2019 we called it the new abnormality and sadly it has persisted,” they say.
“World leaders and the public are not moving anywhere near the speed or unity necessary to prevent a disaster,” the scientists warn, while calling for an immediate commitment to renewed cooperation to reduce all these risks. “Citizens of the world can and should organize to demand that their leaders do so, and quickly. The threshold of perdition is not a place to loiter,” they proclaim.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism