Recently, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced an ominous warning regarding our proximity to ultimate doom. “As always, new technologies hold the promise of doing great good, supplying new sources of clean energy, curing disease, and otherwise enhancing our lives. From experience, however, we also know that new technologies can be used to diminish humanity and destroy societies,” the board wrote. “We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking.” They called it the Doomsday Clock.
The Atomic Age started in late 1945. A group of 11 researchers in the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago met to address the moral and social responsibilities of scientists regarding the use of nuclear energy. They studied its possible consequences and potential impact on the planet. Calling themselves the Chicago Atomic Scientists, they began publishing their discussions in mimeograph form in December 1945.
As threat of nuclear war increased, the Chicago Atomic Scientists used a clock as an analogy to represent the threat. The closer the minute hand gets to midnight—it was originally set at seven minutes to midnight in 1947—the closer the world is to annihilation. Originally, the clock only represented a nuclear threat, but in 2007, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced they would include climate change in their assessments.
One of the original founders of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists explained in 1984: “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…”
Doomsday Clock Highlights
Year Minutes Left Reason
1947 7 The initial setting of the Doomsday Clock.
1949 3 The Soviet Union tests its first atomic bomb.
1953 2 The United States and the Soviet Union test thermonuclear devices.
1963 12 The United States and Soviet Union sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty, limiting atmospheric nuclear testing.
1972 12 The US and the Soviet Union sign the SALT I and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
1974 9 India tests Smiling Buddha; SALT II talks stall. Both the US and the Soviet Union modernize MIRVs.
1981 4 War in Afghanistan prompts Reagan to say that the only way to end the Cold War is to win it.
1983 3 The Afghanistan war heats the Cold war. US Pershing II missiles are deployed in Western Europe.
1990 10 Fall of the Berlin Wall, dissolution of Iron Curtain sealing off Eastern Europe, Cold War nearing an end.
1991 17 United States and Soviet Union sign the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Soviet Union dissolves.
2007 5 North Korea’s test of a nuclear weapon and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
2012 5 Nuclear stockpiles, regional nuclear conflict, nuclear power safety, and global climate change grow.
2015 3 Current efforts to fight global warming are insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth.
2017 2.5 The probability of global warming catastrophe is very high and growing.
2018 2 The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future is lamentable.
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