90 seconds to midnight: World closer to doomsday than ever - Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock is now 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to a global catastrophe.

 A city is seen burning in an artistic imagining of a man-made apocalypse. With the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight, could this happen soon? (photo credit: PIXABAY)
A city is seen burning in an artistic imagining of a man-made apocalypse. With the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight, could this happen soon?
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Earth is closer to a catastrophic global demise than ever before, with the famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists being at 90 seconds to midnight, thanks in large part to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This is the closest the clock has ever been to reaching the dreaded midnight.

This marks a 10-second change compared to 2022 when the Doomsday Clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight.

"We are living in a time of unprecedented danger, and the Doomsday Clock time reflects that reality," Bulletin president and CEO Rachel Bronson said, adding that "90 seconds to midnight is the closest the Clock has ever been set to midnight, and it's a decision our experts do not take lightly. The US government, its NATO allies and Ukraine have a multitude of channels for dialogue; we urge leaders to explore all of them to their fullest ability to turn back the Clock."

Why is it just 90 seconds to midnight?

The change was largely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequently increased possibility of nuclear war, especially with the nuclear rhetoric espoused by officials in Moscow.

 The clock with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is placed ahead of the announcement of the location of the minute hand on its Doomsday Clock, indicating what world developments mean for the perceived likelihood of nuclear catastrophe, at the National Press Club in Washington, US, January 24, (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS) The clock with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is placed ahead of the announcement of the location of the minute hand on its Doomsday Clock, indicating what world developments mean for the perceived likelihood of nuclear catastrophe, at the National Press Club in Washington, US, January 24, (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

However, there were other factors at play too, such as the ongoing climate crisis.

What is the Doomsday Clock?

The Doomsday Clock was first created in 1947 as a metaphorical countdown to the end of the world as we know it. Specifically, it refers to the impending global disaster that is solely caused by human hands, and it is adjusted every January upon review by scientists from the Bulletin.

Upon its unveiling in 1947, the clock was seven minutes to midnight. Since that time, it has moved back and forth a total of 24 different times. 

Originally, the biggest factor at play in evaluating how close humanity is to its end was a nuclear apocalypse. This makes sense, considering it was formed right after nuclear bombs ended World War II and right before the arms race of the Cold War started. In fact, the record for the closest the Doomsday Clock had been to disaster used to be in 1953, set two minutes to midnight, when the US and Soviet Union both started to test hydrogen bombs. 

This was seen again in 2018 when the clock once again moved back to two minutes to midnight in light of provocations between the US and North Korea pushing the chance of nuclear war even further.

Why is the Doomsday Clock now at 90 seconds to midnight?

Now, with nuclear rhetoric becoming common again thanks to the Russia-Ukraine war, that possibility has come back. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres even warned that this is now "a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War."

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased the risk of nuclear weapons use, raised the specter of biological and chemical weapons use, hamstrung the world’s response to climate change, and hampered international efforts to deal with other global concerns."

John Mecklin

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased the risk of nuclear weapons use, raised the specter of biological and chemical weapons use, hamstrung the world’s response to climate change, and hampered international efforts to deal with other global concerns," Bulletin editor John Mecklin said in a statement. "The invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory have also violated international norms in ways that may embolden others to take actions that challenge previous understandings and threaten stability."

Admittedly, there is more at play than just nuclear weapons. The Bulletin notes that Russia's invasion of Ukraine essentially upends all of post-World War II European security arrangements, essentially throwing all the norms of international conduct into question. 

In addition, nuclear disaster is not solely related to nuclear weapons, as the Bulletin notes Russia's attacks on the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants posed a serious risk of releasing dangerous radioactive materials. 

In addition, there are also other nuclear issues that have pushed the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

First, there is the continued expansion and testing of nuclear capabilities in China and India and of missiles in North Korea. Secondly, New START, the last nuclear weapons treaty between Russia and the US, is set to expire in February 2026. If it isn't renewed, the Bulletin argues, it could lead to a new nuclear arms race.

In addition, Iran is still working on its own nuclear program and may be inching ever closer to a nuclear bomb of its own. 

All this is part of what the Bulletin fears are a "third nuclear age."

Other issues at play include extreme weather caused by climate change and a record high in carbon dioxide emissions; the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the possible dangers of another zoonotic disease pandemic; the still frequently occurring laboratory accidents that can pose severe health risks; continued spread of disinformation and cyber threats; and the threatening of the established behavioral norms of space, with Russia threatening to use anti-satellite weapons against Starlink satellites.