With all of the bad news that has been floating around lately with regard to climate change, war, and any of the other potential dangers to us as a planet, there’s a glimmer of good news: the Doomsday Clock remains in its position at five minutes to midnight. While it’s not a step backward, at least it hasn’t moved forward in time.
If you’re not sure what exactly the Doomsday Clock is, its origins go like so. Back in 1947, Martyl Langsdorf was the wife of a researcher involved with the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a publication that was the brainchild of some of the researchers who participated in building the atomic bomb.
Langsdorf was a painter, and she illustrated the cover of the first publication with an image of - yep, you guessed it - the Doomsday Clock which, at that point, rested its hands at 11:53 p.m. Langsdorf was alive until fairly recently, passing away in March of 2013.
The furthest back the clock has ever gone was in 1991 when the Cold War ended. At that point, it read 11:43 p.m., 17 minutes to midnight. The closest it has ever come to the world being S.O.L. was in 1953, after the first testing of the hydrogen bomb. At that point, the clock read 11:58 p.m.
The hand reached its present state at five minutes to midnight back in January of 2012, which was one minute closer to midnight than it was the year previous. Factors affecting the “time” included the nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima power plant in 2011, as well as the state of nuclear arsenals at that time and the creation of a strain of the H1N1 flu virus in 2012.
The Doomsday Clock has been ticking ever closer to midnight since that hopeful year in 1991, due to everyone all but giving up on the possibility of nuclear disarmament, but nuclear weapons aren’t the only things that affect the ticking of the clock.
Some things to pay attention to that may change the “times”? Obviously, climate change is a biggie, and the Bulletin has been urging the U.S. and Russia to engage in more dialogue with regard to nukes. They have also called for new rules to be put into place that would keep technological advances in check.
The Board chose to keep the clock where it is this year after nuclear weapons talks that were meant to happen between the U.S. and Russia did not actually happen as a result of former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden being offered political asylum in Russia. The talks would have concerned the shrinking of nuclear weapons arsenals. Another factor affecting the clock is, of course, the climate change debate, and each country’s willingness (or lack thereof) to participate in the utilization of renewable energy.
The Board is also concerned about our use of technology, and that while it can do a world of good when it comes to having medicinal value or clean energy options, it can also be harnessed for evil. As the Board put it, we can either get a grip on technology or fall victim to it, and whatever we decide is a conscious choice.