It's the 21st Century, Does the Doomsday Clock Really Matter?
Empowering a Culture of Fear: Scientists Employing Terror to Stir Controversy While the World Awaits Nuclear Armageddon
Since 1947 the Doomsday Clock has served as a symbolic representation of the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. For the last two years it remained at two minutes to midnight, the highest since 1953-59 and the height of the Cold War. Is humanity really once again on the brink of armageddon or is there a more rational explanation for this shocking doomsaying?
The Clock, representing the hypothetical global catastrophe as "midnight", is owned and operated by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and takes into account three major factors when setting the clock:
- Nuclear Risk
- Climate Change
- Disruptive Technologies
The Journal also bases its judgement on a litany of scientific and socio-political factors as advised by The Bulletin's science and security board composed of globally recognised leaders in their respective fields.
Each year the board decides based on these factors an appropriate time to set the clock. In 2017 in response to rising tensions between the isolationist state of North Korea and the United Nations, the minute hand moved from 23:57 to 23:58 where it has remained since despite recent de-escalation and efforts to denuclearise on the horizon.
Jerry Brown, former governor of California and The Bulletin's latest executive chairman declared during the 2019 unveiling “We are like passengers on the Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music." This begs the question, is there a political motive behind the Doomsaying are we really on the brink of global catastrophe?
The question of relevance has been raised against the Doomsday Clock, some claiming a cold war piece designed to communicate the threat of the expansionist Soviet Union has no place in modern political discord. With the seemingly endless instability of global politics, Kathrine Pandora, a history of science research at the University of Oklahoma stated "I don't think that using apocalyptic rhetoric helps us to do the hard work of discussing difficult and complicated issues in a democracy."
A Powerful Symbol - More Than Just Atomic Warfare
In a 2016 Interview with Live Science Anders Sandberg, a philosopher at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, said the following of the Doomsday Clock project.
"It's not an exact measure and it's also combining several things... It was perhaps much easier when they started, when it was just nuclear war, but since then we have gained other existential risks."
Existential risks that cannot be understated in an ever more technologically centred world. Hacking by hostile foreign governments, the rapid advancements in Artificial Intelligence, the impending collapse of the European Union, and a growing restlessness in the status-quo in Venezuela, South Africa, and, France to name a few notable examples, all brought to a global audience by the international press, particularly the internet, in contrast to the limited scope of The Doomsday Clock at the time of its inception.
It's clear that The Doomsday Clock has been following a more political rather than scientific agenda in recent years with the 2017 decision to move the minute hand 30 seconds closer to midnight as an immediate reaction to "The risk President Donald Trump poses to the world order." Despite this former executive director Rachel Bronson made comments clarifying The Bulletin maintains non-partisanship in an interview with The New York Times.
Bronson stated “[people should know] what a dangerous moment we’re in, and how important it is for people to take note,” adding “We’re so concerned about the rhetoric, and the lack of respect for expertise, that we moved it 30 seconds... Rather than create panic, we’re hoping that this drives action.”
It should be remembered the Doomsday Clock is an entirely subjective metric. It’s not attached to any physical reality, and scientists set it to whatever time they feel fits the moments. That means political and ideological biases can get bring the clock closer or further from midnight meaning the potential for partisan bias is ultimately unavoidable.