Doomsday Clock Stays at 90 Seconds to Midnight Amid Climate Change, War and A.I.

For the second year in a row, the clock is the nearest it has ever been to signaling our total annihilation

The upper left quadrant of a clock, showing a time right before 12:00
The 2023 Doomsday Clock on display before a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists event on January 24, 2023. The Bulletin has been setting the clock since 1947 based on analysis of threats facing humans from technologies people have made.  Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock has been set at 90 seconds to midnight for the second year in a row.

The clock is a metaphorical representation of how close humanity is to destroying the world via nuclear weapons, climate change and other means. Ninety seconds is the closest the clock has ever been to midnight.

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, which sets the clock, pointed to “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increased risk of nuclear escalation” as major reasons for moving the clock to 90 seconds before midnight last year. This year, the clock remains at the same time, due to factors including the war in Ukraine, growing reliance on nuclear weapons, climate-related disasters and advances in artificial intelligence.

“Trends continue to point ominously towards global catastrophe,” Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin, said at a Tuesday news conference, per CNN’s Kristen Rogers, Megan Marples and Rachel Ramirez. “The war in Ukraine poses an ever-present risk of nuclear escalation. And the October 7 attack in Israel and war in Gaza provides further illustration of the horrors of modern war, even without nuclear escalation.”

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board is composed of experts in nuclear risk, climate change and disruptive technologies. They consult with other experts and the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes nine Nobel Laureates.

The Bulletin cited a number of potential nuclear threats facing the world today. For one, Russia could possibly use nuclear weapons in their war against Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in February and announced deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus in March, per the Bulletin.

The U.S. Senate also has not debated ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and Russia and China are expanding their nuclear capabilities, according to the Bulletin. Around the world, there are around 13,000 nuclear warheads, 90 percent of which belong to Russia or the U.S., per BBC News’ Jane Corbin.

“Every major country, including the U.K., is investing in their nuclear arsenal as if nuclear weapons are usable for a very long time,” Bronson tells BBC News. “This is a very dangerous time … leaders are not acting responsibly.”

The Bulletin also lists risks presented by climate change as a reason for setting the clock so close to midnight. 2023 was the hottest year in recorded history by a significant margin. Global carbon emissions from fossil fuels hit record highs. And global average temperatures could increase by more than 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2027—a climate threshold to avoid set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Improved genetic engineering technologies, advances in A.I., including military uses of A.I., are also listed as reasons for the Doomsday Clock’s current setting.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by scientists including Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer. In 1947, the Doomsday Clock was made and set at seven minutes to midnight. The clock was moved to three minutes to midnight after the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic bomb in 1949.

U.S. and Soviet Union hydrogen bomb tests pushed the clock to 11:58 in 1953. But cooperative talks on avoiding conflict and a couple of treaties led to the clock moving farther from midnight in the 1960s. In 1991, the clock was set at 11:43, the farthest it has been from midnight, after U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The Bulletin considered climate change when setting the clock for the first time in 2007. The clock was at 11:54 in 2010, but has steadily moved closer to midnight due to increasing nuclear threats, insufficient action on climate change and failures of political leadership. The clock reached three minutes to midnight in 2015, 2.5 minutes in 2017, two minutes in 2018 and 100 seconds in 2020.

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