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The Doomsday Clock is now at 100 seconds to midnight

‘Information warfare’ pushed us closer to armageddon

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Humanity is now 100 seconds away from the apocalypse, according to the Doomsday Clock, which was updated today. That’s 20 metaphorical seconds closer to the moment humans destroy the planet, at least according to a group of scientists who keep track of the many ways humanity might bring about its own end.

This is the closest humans have been to the end of days — aka midnight — according to the nonprofit Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin’s science and security board convened in November to decide what time to set the clock. The time was set long before heightened military actions between the US and Iran and before North Korea’s decision to end its freeze on nuclear testing. Those events only confirmed the Bulletin’s consensus that humanity is in graver danger than ever before, board member Sharon Squassoni said. But they also seemed to suggest that the clock’s meager move might have lowballed the risks at hand.

The organization started the clock in 1947 as the nuclear arms race began, and it has since focused on risks from nuclear technology and climate change. This year, concerns over Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs and disintegrating cooperation between the US and Russia on disarmament prompted the Bulletin’s board of scientists and experts to move the clock forward. So, too, did inadequate action on climate change.

“I must say as I listened to the excellent but devastating presentation of the scientists, I felt more and more a strong personal reaction — the reaction of an angry granny,” former president of Ireland and climate action advocate Mary Robinson said at the announcement. “This is not acceptable.” Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former California Gov. Jerry Brown also spoke at the event.

Information warfare is also contributing to the spread of misinformation and crippling humanity’s ability to respond to the dangers we face, according to the Bulletin. It called out the Trump administration for disbanding science committees and sowing distrust in the media by labeling it “fake news.” Deepfakes could make it harder for people and policymakers to discern truth from lies, the Bulletin warned. Facebook is already grappling with how to limit misinformation from deepfakes on its platform, and it has moved to ban them ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.

The last time the clock ticked forward was in 2018 when it moved up 30 seconds to reach two minutes before midnight. At the time, escalating tensions between nuclear powers and the buildup of a nuclear arsenal by North Korea, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the US had the Bulletin most worried. The clock had reached two minutes to midnight only once before: in 1953 when world powers were locked in a nuclear arms race.

The clock stayed put in 2019, but that still wasn’t great news. The failure to address the threats posed by climate change kept the Bulletin from moving the time further away from midnight. Since then, the world remains on a catastrophic path toward warming of 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. “We have no reason to believe that such a world would remain hospitable to human civilization,” said Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, during the announcement.

Back in 1991, the clock’s hands were positioned the farthest away from midnight that they’ve ever been. Thanks to the end of the Cold War and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by the US and Soviet Union, the Bulletin moved the clock back to 17 minutes from midnight.

Although it’s backed up by legitimate scientific and geopolitical analysis, the Doomsday Clock is a gimmick. There’s no need to start building your doomsday bunker just yet. The clock is meant to serve as “a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet,” according to the Bulletin.