The world is still 100 seconds to midnight after a punishing 2020 marred by mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued fears over nuclear risks and climate change, according to the annual Doomsday Clock announcement Wednesday.
This is the same time as last year. The clock remains closer to destruction than at any point since it was created in 1947.
"The lethal and fear-inspiring COVID-19 pandemic serves as a historic wake-up call, a vivid illustration that national governments and international organizations are unprepared to manage the truly civilization-ending threats of nuclear weapons and climate change,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Each year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit group that sets the clock, decides whether the events of the previous year pushed humanity closer to or further from destruction. The clock “conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making," according to the group.
The closer to midnight we are, the more danger we're in, according to the Bulletin.
The furthest the clock has been from midnight was 17 minutes in 1991, at the end of the Cold War.
Even though the Cold War ended three decades ago, nuclear risks remain a grave threat to humanity. “Despite nuclear abolition being the long-awaited wish of all A-Bomb survivors, there are still more than 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with nuclear states continuing to modernize their nuclear forces," said Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki in a statement. "Moreover, nuclear disarmament continues to stagnate, further exacerbating global tensions.”
The Doomsday Clock authors wrote that "by our estimation, the potential for the world to stumble into nuclear war – an ever-present danger over the last 75 years – increased in 2020."
Climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, is also among the major threats cited by the Doomsday Clock authors. "A pandemic-related economic slowdown temporarily reduced the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming," the authors said. "But over the coming decade fossil fuel use needs to decline precipitously if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided.
"Instead, fossil fuel development and production are projected to increase. Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record high in 2020, one of the two warmest years on record. The massive wildfires and catastrophic cyclones of 2020 are illustrations of the major devastation that will only increase if governments do not significantly and quickly amplify their efforts to bring greenhouse gas emissions essentially to zero."
The clock has been maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1947. The group was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project.
In December, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists marked its 75th anniversary.
The clock uses the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and a nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the Earth.
The decision was made by the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, along with input from a board of sponsors that includes 13 Nobel Laureates.