Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced today that the Doomsday Clock remains as close to midnight as ever — 100 seconds to midnight — in part because of the lack of preparedness and leadership from politicians in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The symbolic Doomsday Clock was first set to 100 seconds to midnight in 2020.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board sets the clock each year as a way to update the public on the whether humanity is safer or in greater danger than it was in previous years. The decision is based on information from scientists and security experts who evaluate “the threat of human existence, with a focus on man-made threats of nuclear risk, climate change and new disruptive technologies,” Rachel Bronson, PhD, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said during a press conference.
However, there is “good reason” to address the biological threat of COVID-19 in this year’s judgment, according to Asha M. George, DrPH, executive director of Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense and Science and Security Board member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
“This disease has revealed our vulnerabilities in ways that none have before — not even pandemic influenza and the anthrax attacks of 2001,” George said during the press conference. “As we can see with the current pandemic, something as small as a viral mutation could push us closer to doomsday — a viral mutation that could occur in an instant. We must continue to take this threat seriously, even when COVID-19 is well behind us.”
Last year, climate change and concerns about nuclear warfare were “major drivers” in moving the clock to the closest it has ever been to midnight, Bronson said. However, the underlying issue was — and continues to be — “the deliberate erosion by politicians of science and our core institutions.”
“[Last year’s] statement anticipated the early denial in the U.S. of the coronavirus pandemic threat and the early denials around the world, the downplaying of needed public health responses and the vilifying of prominent scientists,” Bronson said. “It has been a disastrous succession of falling dominos made possible by years of shredding science, mocking scientists and other experts, and catering to conspiracy theories instead of nurturing our previously most trusted institutions.”
In this year’s report, Bronson said the organization recognizes that “humanity continues to suffer.” Although COVID-19 “will not obliterate civilization,” it has illustrated “how unprepared and unwilling” governments are to properly manage complex emergencies, from virulent pandemics to nuclear warfare and climate change, she added.
The authors of the Doomsday Clock report said the threats of climate change, nuclear weapons and widespread disinformation on the internet “might justify moving the clock closer to midnight.” However, there have been some “positive developments,” including “the election of a U.S. president who acknowledges climate change as a profound threat and supports international cooperation and science-based policy,” the authors wrote. President Joseph R. Biden Jr., they added, demonstrated his willingness to address these threats by rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change and offering to extend a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia for 5 years.
“It would be a privilege and an honor to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock away from midnight,” Bronson said. “Although there are important bright spots that we articulate very clearly in our repot — bright spots that we hope will continue to extend and evolve and allow us to push it back next year — the current situation does not warrant it.”
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This is your COVID wake-up call: It is 100 seconds to midnight. https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/. Accessed Jan. 27, 2020.