Doomsday Clock: A Countdown to Catastrophe

January 24th, 2013

Many Americans enjoy watching the wildly popular television show “Doomsday Preppers” on the National Geographic Channel and musing over the elaborate disaster preparations that were created to aid in surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. Meanwhile the hands of human civilization’s hypothetical Doomsday Clock are hovering closely to midnight. The Doomsday Clock symbolizes humanity’s susceptibility to destruction and at the stroke of midnight; our civilization’s time will run out.doomsday1

Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock’s time setting is based on the current state of nuclear weapons, climate change, and other emerging technologies, and can change based on current events. A team of experts, including the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists board members, several Nobel Prize recipients, and leading authorities on nuclear weapons and other threats, determine the clock setting. At its inception, the clock was set at 7 minutes to midnight as a result of the recent creation of the first atomic bombs. This historical event resulted in the potential for universal destruction through the use of nuclear weapons.

In the past 65 years, the clock’s setting has changed 20 times. In 1953 the clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight, based on the decision of the United States and Soviet Union to create the hydrogen bomb. Earlier, and more optimistic, settings have been announced in the past, though they were not as hopeful as one would like. The earliest setting ever on the Doomsday Clock was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 and resulted from the end of the Cold War between the United States and Russia and the subsequent Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

On January 14, 2013 it was announced that the current clock setting is 5 minutes to midnight. Adjusted from the previous setting of 6 minutes to midnight, this setting signals the increase in destructive means available to the world population. Since some of the most powerful nations are still armed with nuclear weapons and it is estimated that 20 to 30 more countries intend to create an atomic bomb, nuclear weapons still provide the potential for world-wide destruction. But intercontinental ballistic missiles and the like are not the only weapons available that bring us closer to a catastrophe. The potential for widespread use of biological weapons that can cripple a nation force the hands of the Doomsday Clock slightly closer to midnight as well. Concerns about possible climate change events, like sea-level rise, that may also wreak havoc globally, also influenced the clock setting.

Is the Doomsday Clock an accurate depiction of the state of humankind? Are we teetering on the edge of destruction? The figurative clock’s setting is merely subjective, based solely on the opinions of a small team of experts. Nevertheless it is a little unnerving to think that the fate of humanity can be represented by the simple image of a clock nearing its final hour. Perhaps preparing for an apocalypse or other catastrophic event isn’t such a bad idea.  Take the time to put together an emergency preparedness kit so that you are ready to survive any disaster but remain hopeful that in the near future the human race will find a way to turn back the clock.


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