The Doomsday Clock is a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.
When the Doomsday Clock was created in 1947, the greatest danger
to humanity came from nuclear weapons, in particular from the prospect that the United States and the Soviet Union were headed for a nuclear arms race
. The Bulletin considered possible catastrophic disruptions from climate change in its hand-setting deliberations for the first time in 2007.
Ensuring the survival of our societies and the human species is not a political agenda. Cooperating with other countries to achieve control of extremely dangerous technologies should not involve partisan politics. If scientists involved with the Bulletin are critical of current
policies on nuclear weapons and climate change, it is because those policies increase the possibility of self-destruction.
The Bulletin has moved the Clock hand away from midnight almost as often as it has moved it toward midnight, and as often during Republican administrations in the United States as during Democratic ones. It moved the hand farthest away in 1991, when US President George H.W. Bush’s administration signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Soviet Union.
In 1991 It was 17 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
With the Cold War officially over, the United States and Russia
begin making deep cuts to their nuclear arsenals. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty greatly reduces the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed by the two former adversaries. Better still, a series of unilateral initiatives remove most of the intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers in both countries from hair-trigger alert. "The illusion that tens of thousands of nuclear weapons are a guarantor of national security
has been stripped away," the Bulletin declares.
The Doomsday Clock is not a forecasting tool, and we are not predicting the future. Rather, we study events
that have already occurred and existing trends. Our Science and Security
Board tracks numbers and statistics—looking, for example, at the number and kinds of nuclear weapons in the world, the parts
per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the degree of acidity in our oceans, and the rate of sea level rise. The board also takes account of leaders’ and citizens’ efforts to reduce dangers, and efforts by institutions—whether of governments, markets, or civil society organizations—to follow through on negotiated agreements.
The Bulletin is a bit like a doctor making a diagnosis. We look at data, as physicians look at lab tests and x-rays, and also take harder-to-quantify factors into account, as physicians do when talking with patients and family
members. We consider as many symptoms, measurements, and circumstances as we can. Then we come to a judgment that sums up what could happen if leaders and citizens don’t take action to treat the conditions.
As long as nuclear weapons exist and can be used, the risk that we could destroy civilization also exists. Such a calamity has not occurred because national leaders have so far heeded warnings, and because at critical times in the past 70 years, they have set up communication channels with adversaries, negotiated treaties to control the weapons, taken steps to radically reduce arsenals, and engaged erstwhile enemies in cooperative projects. Preventing nuclear war requires continued diplomacy, more exchanges of information, and open communications
that engender trust.
Likewise, as long as Earth’s climate continues to change, we are at risk of suffering the potential consequences, in particular disruptions in the environment—such as extended droughts, changes in growing seasons, sea level rise, and fisheries die-offs—that threaten human survival.
Humans invented both nuclear weapons and the fossil-fuel powered machines that contribute to climate change; we know how they work
, so presumably we can find ways to reduce or eliminate the harm. But we need concerted cooperation worldwide to prevent calamity.