By Ty Joplin
Behind political disputes over weapons stockpiling, nuclear deals and arms races; behind war-mongering rhetoric and a growing distrust of the science behind climate change, behind breaking news cycles, lies the doomsday clock, which announces how close all these developments bring humanity to self-destruction.
It’s a universal barometer gauging the impact humans have on this world and on each other.
Created and led by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, the clock has ticked forward and backwards to and from midnight, which signifies the point of no-return for civilizational collapse.
Since its founding, the clock has permeated popular culture, becoming a famed institution in the process. Bands like Iron Maiden utilize its imagery to sing about mass death, shows like Doctor Who use it as a plot point to highlight the importance of preventing catastrophes, and the widely read comic series, Watchmen, routinely deploys the clock to explore the threat of a nuclear armageddon.
Right now, the doomsday clock is two minutes to midnight; the closest humanity has been to apocalypse according to the Bulletin.
The doomsday clock is a metaphor to highlight global threats that are generally missed by the news; nuclear and cyber war, disinformation, climate change; all developments moving at a glacial pace compared to the 24-hour news cycle’s speed, but considered more gravely threatening than most of what is covered on a daily basis.
Al Bawaba spoke with the Bulletin’s editor-in-chief, John Mecklin, who thinks the doomsday clock serves the crucial role of reminding people once a year to think on a global and long-term scale about these threats.
Every year in January, the Bulletin hosts a press conference where they announced how many minutes to midnight humanity is. “The whole idea is once a year, to focus the world on these major threats; to pay attention to them and to try and get the mass of people to influence their leaders to reduce those threats,” Mecklin says.
“It is a metaphor; it’s a metaphor for the security state of the world as compared to where it was a year ago and back to history. And it’s fairly effective at waking up people at least for a week or two,” he adds.
Mecklin considers it an indispensable way of reminding people that what’s actually most important to the world aren’t things that will be covered in the daily news.
Nuclear weapons, for example, are rarely front-page news of most major media outlets, but they nonetheless constitute one of the most enduring dangers to humanity, and the panel of experts associated with the Bulletin consider their proliferation and potential use to be of utmost importance.
Despite this fact that nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to humanity, “if you look at the front page of your newspaper or what you read online, that’s not what generally leads the news. There are all sorts of reasons for that. The definition of news [is] something that’s brand new; it just happened yesterday. Well these aren’t things that happened yesterday.”
As a result, they get lost in the news cycle, and awareness of their tangible danger is lost.
“In your list of things you care about in the world,” Mecklin asserts in conversation with Al Bawaba, “maybe you ought to think about making sure humans will still be here. Maybe that should be at the top of your list.”
“What we’re trying to do is persuade people, on a global basis, that at the top of their list ought to be their kids, their kids’ kids and the possibility that the human race can continue for a long, long time.”