This clock is a metaphor for apocalyptic consequences that people around the world should seek to avoid.
Every year, the researchers and policy experts at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the United States set the new time on the “Doomsday Clock.” It’s a metric of just how seriously imperiled the world has become, beginning in 1945 with Manhattan Project scientists and their emphasis on the nuclear weapons threat and evolving into a more integrated approach to global crisis today.
Sadly, this year’s clock – the time announced on Thursday – is set at two minutes before midnight, the metaphor for apocalyptic consequences the world should seek to avoid. There’s still much emphasis on geopolitical tensions and the looming shadow of war, but the earth’s fragile climate state is now seen as being as much a threat as nuclear weapons.
“The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board today sets the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight—the closest it has ever been to apocalypse,” said the organization, explaining the decision made by a board that includes 15 Nobel laureates. “Though unchanged from 2018, this setting should be taken not as a sign of stability but as a stark warning to leaders and citizens around the world.”
Climate change is a sobering weight in the Doomsday Clock calculus. The news that carbon dioxide emissions are again increasing after a brief mid-decade plateau is one reason. “Even nations that have strongly supported the need to decarbonize are not doing enough,” the scientists said. “Preliminary estimates show that almost all countries contributed to the rise in emissions.” The U.S. has walked away from its decarbonization and climate change commitments in an increasingly unstable world.
Even as Australia began its new year with unrelenting heat – a wave that continues with 44C highs forecast for Friday, power plant generators failing and horses dying of thirst – the Doomsday Clock scientists pointed out how quickly “the new abnormal” is changing the heating planet. The October IPCC report stressed that even the increase between 1.5 and 2C degrees of warming will deliver severe impacts, but even if countries weren’t dragging their feet on their Paris climate commitments it may not be enough to prevent it.
There is still time to rescue the world from truly catastrophic effects of climate change, the atomic scientists said, but progress toward decarbonization must pick up the pace dramatically and soon for that to happen.
“The ‘new abnormal’ that we describe, and that the world now inhabits, is unsustainable and extremely dangerous. The world security situation can be improved, if leaders seek change and citizens demand it,” the board said. “It is two minutes to midnight, but there is no reason the Doomsday Clock cannot move away from catastrophe. It has done so in the past, because wise leaders acted—under pressure from informed and engaged citizens around the world.”
Scientists who signed the open letter include climate expert and senior scientist Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environmental Institute; Raymond Pierrehumbert, the Halley Professor of Physics at Oxford University; and Susan Solomon, Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at MIT. You can learn more about the Doomsday Clock and a timeline over the years at this link.