Jan 24, 2023 - World

War in Ukraine pushes Doomsday Clock forward

Data: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

In an annual update announced Tuesday morning, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the symbolic Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight.

Why it matters: The setting moves the clock's hands closer to midnight than it has ever been before.

  • The clock is a figurative tracker of the world's proximity to total human-caused destruction. The clock's hands are moved closer to midnight to suggest humanity is nearer to self-made catastrophe, and farther when that risk appears to fade.

The big picture: Since its inception in 1947, the Doomsday Clock was initially used to represent the danger posed by nuclear weapons. It has since evolved to take into account the risks posed by climate change, bioweapons, and disinformation.

  • The move forward closer to midnight was due "largely, though not exclusively, because of the mounting dangers in the war in Ukraine," Rachel Bronson, current president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said at the press conference Tuesday.
  • "Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict—by accident, intention, or miscalculation—is a terrible risk. The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high," the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said in a press release.

The group also highlighted other factors that played a role in the clock's setting.

  • Among these are "China’s considerable expansion of its nuclear capabilities" and North Korea's increase in its missile testing.
  • The climate crisis also continues to pose an existential threat, with global carbon dioxide emissions rebounding from their pandemic low and climate change-linked extreme weather events abounding.
  • Bio-threats are also a concern. "Devastating events like the COVID-19 pandemic can no longer be considered rare, once-a-century occurrences," the press release noted.
  • The press release added that "cyber-enabled disinformation continues unabated," pointing to instances of strict information control in Russia as an example. In the U.S., political opposition prevented the creation of a “Disinformation Governance Board” proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, it added.

Catch up quick: Since 2020, the clock had remained at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it had ever been until this year's new setting.

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