Tick Tock goes the Doomsday Clock

Environment, Featured 2018-01-29

Tick tock, tick tock. It is a sound that we have all heard at some point in our life. Be it from a grandfather clock that breaks the silence in a creepy horror film; or signifying an impending deadline; the sound is uniquely associated with one thing. Time.

Perhaps most morbidly epitomised by the villainous Jordan Chase from the TV series Dexter:
“Tick tick tick, that’s the sound of your life running out.”

A morbid metaphor if there ever was one. But this metaphorical expression of time ticking away can be applied to both an individual, or in a sense, the global populous. The latter of which has been immortalised by a special clock that does not obey the rules of time. I am referring of course to the Doomsday Clock.

What is it?

The Doomsday Clock, is exactly what you would expect: it monitors the proximity of the human race to doomsday (cue panicked screaming). Conceived back in 1947, midnight is the theoretical line whereby the human race will reach total annihilation, either by our own hand and nuclear apocalypse or by catastrophes inadvertently caused by our collective actions.

If this all sounds scary, well that is the general point. The Doomsday Clock was conceived as a metaphorical statement designed to stir the public into action. Time on this clock is reset depending on various worldwide events including emerging trends, political upheaval and threatening rhetoric.

The Turners of Time

Is it reassuringly unnerving that this decision is not taken lightly? But, who is in charge of moving the dial?

Originally there was one time-turner, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists editor Eugene Rabinowitch. But following his death in 1973, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board was established to reset the time accordingly. Consisting of scientists and other experts, they bring a deep knowledge of topics such as nuclear technology and climate science to name just the two major issues facing the human race.

There are several scientific impacts that assist scientists in the possible advancement of the Doomsday Clock. The primary topic is climate change, specifically, monitoring global quantities such as sea-level rises, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and differences in temperature. But, as new global threats emerge, the expertise must evolve too. One such example is the rise in antimicrobial resistance and the rising potential of diseases such as Zika and Ebola. All of these factors are considered alongside the political and military issues considered before the Doomsday Clock is set.

Advancing the Clock

Thursday 25th of January 2018 brought with it titles from news organisations, such as the BBC, that the Doomsday Clock has moved forward, closer to midnight. Advancing from two and a half minutes to midnight to just two minutes to midnight, which signifies the closest the clock has ever been to midnight. This milestone has been reached before, in 1953. During that time the world was in the midst of the Cold War with the US and Soviet Union nuclear superpowers vying for power.

Advancing 30 seconds might seem an insignificant amount of time on an ordinary clock. I mean if you have reached this far down it is likely that minutes have already passed. But, as this clock is counting down time to annihilation, every second counts. 2018 marks the second consecutive year that the clock has advanced.

“The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future”

The threat of two nuclear superpowers still exists today, the major difference being the colour of their respective flags. But this advance has been cited on other emerging trends related to disinformation and the spreading misuse of information technology.

Turn Back the Clock

Doom and gloom aside, hope is not lost. Time is advanced easily, but it can also be reversed. For instance, one of the largest jumps came in 1991 when, following the end of the Cold War and period of stability in Eastern Europe, the clock reverted by 11 minutes within 3 years to read 17 minutes to midnight, coincidentally the furthest away from doomsday humanity has achieved.

There is still time to turn back the clock. It is in fact considered as a call to action, as said by President and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dr Rachel Bronson:
“It is urgent that, collectively, we put in the work necessary to produce a 2019 Clock statement that rewinds the Doomsday Clock. Get engaged, get involved, and help create that future. The time is now.”

What do you think about the doomsday clock advance? Let me know on Twitter @JoeAtNotch.