Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight — perilously close to catastrophe

Humanity is perilously close to catastrophe, according to a group of scientists that said the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with growing threats from climate change and nuclear weapons, is pushing civilization close to a human-caused apocalypse.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced on Wednesday that its symbolic Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight, the same as last year. That's the closest the timepiece has been to symbolic doom in the more than 70 years of its existence.

The clock doesn't function as a prediction of calamity but rather represents humanity’s perceived proximity to human-caused catastrophe. The Bulletin has maintained the Doomsday Clock since 1947, and it has become a stark visual metaphor since its launch during the Cold War, when the clock's hands were set at seven minutes to midnight.

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, said the pandemic has functioned as a "historic wake-up call," and one that revealed how many governments and international organizations are unprepared to handle complex and dangerous challenges.

"In this time of genuine crisis, governments around the world too often abdicated responsibility, ignored scientific advice, did not cooperate to communicate effectively and consequently failed to protect the health and welfare of their citizens," she said Wednesday in a news briefing.

Bronson said that climate change and the threat of nuclear war remain major factors in determining where to set the hands of the Doomsday Clock, but added that the "deliberate erosion of science by politicians," particularly in the United States, has been damaging.

The Bulletin scientists acknowledged several bright spots, including executive orders signed by President Joe Biden to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, but said not enough progress has been made in the past year to avert existential threats to humanity.

"The Doomsday Clock continues to hover dangerously, reminding us how much work is needed to push the hands away from midnight," Bronson said.

Last year’s update, which set the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, came before the coronavirus spread to every continent in the world. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia, said the Covid-19 crisis is a timely reminder that similar threats should be taken seriously.

"Today, we have the opportunity for a global reset, to admit and learn from past mistakes and better prepare ourselves for future threats, whether they may be from nuclear confrontation, climate disaster, fresh pandemics or a mixture of all of these," she said.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945, is a nonprofit organization that examines global security issues related to science and technology. Each year, the group consults with a board of sponsors to analyze the world's most pressing threats in order to determine where the Doomsday Clock's hands should be set.