On January 23, 2020, the minute-hand of a clock was moved to 23:58:20. That's 100 seconds till midnight. Now you may ask, so what? What's so special about it? Well, the answer is this is no ordinary clock. This is the doomsday clock. And no, this is not a gadget that a villain from a bad sci-fi movie uses to end the world, as the name might suggest. It is actually real.
The clock represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Basically, it shows how close we are to blowing everything up sky high. Here, midnight represents total annihilation of mankind. The minute-hand of the clock can move closer or further from 12 or midnight, indicating whether the global situation has worsened or improved.
The clock was created by a magazine named The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, in the aftermath of the Second World War. It started at 11:53, seven minutes from midnight. The time of the clock has been changed 25 times since then. The magazine was founded by a former Manhattan Project scientist Eugene Rabinowitch and physicist Hyman Goldsmith, in an attempt to inform the public about the threats involving atomic energy and weaponry. Goldsmith asked artist Martyl Langsdorf to design a cover for the June,1947 issue of the magazine. She chose a clock to suggest a countdown which to this day conveys the warning that disaster will take place unless we take action.
Now, the minute-hand of the clock is moved taking several global issues into account like politics, nuclear threats, bioterrorism, cyber security, ignorance towards scientists, climate change etc. For instance, it was moved to 17 minutes before midnight from 10 minutes in 1991, following the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) between the USA and Russia, that limited the testing of nuclear weapons.
Again, it was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight after Donald Trump was elected as the US president, and five minutes closer after India and Pakistan started testing nuclear weapons. Out of the 25 times that the minute-hand of the clock was moved, it was set closer to midnight 19 times. It has been getting closer and closer to midnight since 1991.
This year on January 23, the clock was set to 100 seconds before midnight, 20 seconds closer than last year. This decision was made by the BAS science and security board, including 13 Nobel laureates.
The magazine's President Rachel Bronson told the reporters that the time was shown in seconds rather than in minutes to draw attention to the fact that the threats are worsening. The decision was made based on worsening nuclear threats, lack of climate action and a rise in cyber-crimes.
"The Doomsday Clock is a globally recognised indicator of the vulnerability of our existence," said former Irish President Mary Robinson at the annual clock-unveiling ceremony. "It's a striking metaphor for the precarious state of the world, but most frighteningly, it's a metaphor backed by rigorous scientific scrutiny."
As for Covid-19, it does not pose an extinction level threat for humans, but it is a reminder to what happens if we ignore risks.
The doomsday clock was not created to spread fear, but to raise caution. The world leaders cannot turn a blind eye to these risks anymore. After all, only 100 seconds remain for us to take any effective measure before the ultimate catastrophe.