Updated Jan 23, 2024 - World

Doomsday Clock will stay at 90 seconds to midnight for second year

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' 2023 Doomsday Clock in Washington, D.C.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' 2023 Doomsday Clock in Washington, D.C. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said on Tuesday it believes the world is, metaphorically, still 90 seconds away from midnight, or "global catastrophe."

The big picture: The bulletin said it's keeping the Doomsday Clock at its closet setting to midnight ever again this year because of climate change and the relentless proliferation of nuclear arms.

  • It first set the clock at 90 seconds to midnight last year, citing the climate crisis and Russia's thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons throughout its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

How it works: The clock is the bulletin's metaphorical depiction of how close it believes the world is to a global collapse based on several factors, though nuclear weapons have been its primary focus since it first appeared in the early days of the Cold War, Axios' Ivana Saric and Jacque Schrag report.

  • The clock's hands have fluctuated to and from midnight over the decades, but more recently, they incrementally progressed toward midnight every year since 2007.
  • That year marked the first time the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists considered the effects of climate change in making its judgment.
Data: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios
Data: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

What they're saying: The group said members of its Science and Security Board, which makes the annual time call, "have been deeply worried about the deteriorating state of the world."

  • The bulletin said its decision to maintain last year's setting shouldn't be seen "as a sign that the international security situation has eased."
  • "Instead, leaders and citizens around the world should take this statement as a stark warning and respond urgently, as if today were the most dangerous moment in modern history. Because it may well be," the group added.

In its assessment, it said climate change's toll on people around the world will likely "inexorably mount" unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

  • It noted that 2023 had been the hottest year in recorded history. Temperature records were broken across the globe and limited Antarctic sea ice to its lowest seasonal peak since the advent of satellite data.
  • Record clean energy investments around the world were almost matched by new fossil fuel investments, the bulletin also highlighted.

Of note: The group said the rise of artificial intelligence is a potential threat. It also warned that AI may be abused to further undermine democratic institutions by magnifying disinformation.

  • Additionally, AI paired with new biological technologies, like genetic engineering, may "radically empower individuals to misuse biology," the bulletin said.

The bottom line: The group said Russia using nuclear weapons in its invasion of Ukraine "remains a serious possibility." It pointed out Russia's transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus last year and threats made by advisors to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Another major cause for concern is new nuclear weapon spending by the U.S., China and Russia. It could trigger a three-way nuclear arms race as each nation seeks to surpass others in nuclear capabilities, the group warned.
  • The continued erosion of a nuclear reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia and a global ban on new nuclear weapons tests also heighten the threat of nuclear weapons, the bulletin said.
  • It added the continued nuclear pursuits by Iran and North Korea and nuclear expansion in Pakistan and India have also contributed to the growing threat.

Go deeper: Increase in carbon dioxide levels in 2024 threatens 1.5°C target

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a graphic.

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