In a hundred years, today’s strife will reappear as seemingly-insignificant etches on the warm pages of history books. It will describe a complicated tale of geo-political international conflict, rising oceans and rapid warming that will puzzle the few students who bother listening to their history lecturers. And there’s an excellent chance that the story’s climax will be heralded by one figure: the Doomsday Clock.
No, we’re not talking about some bizarre contraption from the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the Doomsday Clock is a very real thing backed by distinguished scientists here on Earth. While it doesn’t exactly forecast when armageddon (or ‘midnight’) will occur, it does help brew relevant conversation that could hopefully deter the annihilation event entirely.
The Clock does have some Avenger-esque origins, being conceived by notable geniuses such as Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer — a group called The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, who developed the atomic bomb during World War II.
It has been ticking for the past 76 years since, and has now been set to a mere 90 seconds to Midnight — the closest it’s ever been!
In explicit terms, Midnight refers to when we will have rendered Earth uninhabitable for humanity. While the original purpose was to measure nuclear threats, its gauge was broadened to include the climate crisis in 2007.
The Clock was set 100 seconds to Midnight back in 2020, but was moved forward another 10 seconds on Tuesday, primarily due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, coupled with the sorry state of worsening climate change.
This time, India was tragically one of the reasons behind the Clock’s movement as well. Our incessant endeavour to modernise our 160 nuclear warheads and-capable aircraft remained a concern. Similar warfare efforts by Pakistan and the recent “monsoon on steroids” that inundated one-third of the also country served as a grim justification towards the Clock’s advance.
The Doomsday Clock’s position is set annually by panels of prominent scientists — which includes 11 Nobel laureates — and has served as an effective wake-up call to bring effective recourse and place important issues back on the dinner table. However, some have also begun questioning its usefulness in recent times.
Michael E. Mann from the University of Pennsylvania, in an interview with CNN in 2022, called it “an imperfect metaphor” due to the way the Clock tries to consider different risk types in a bizarre unified manner. However, he also adds that it “remains an important rhetorical device that reminds us, year after year, of the tenuousness of our current existence on this planet”.
Unlike an actual clock, however, it is possible to reverse time on the Doomsday Clock. When necessary and consequential decisions are taken to address these pressing issues, the Clock rewinds to an appropriate time, relieving hope in humanity.
“From cutting carbon emissions to strengthening arms control treaties and investing in pandemic preparedness, we know what needs to be done. The science is clear, but the political will is lacking. This must change in 2023 if we are to avert catastrophe. We are facing multiple, existential crises. Leaders need a crisis mindset,” notes Mary Robinson, former UN Human Rights High Commissioner.
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