Doomsday Clock moved one minute back

In 1947, worried about the state of a planet that had recently seen the invention and use of atomic bombs, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists came out with the now-famous Doomsday Clock. With midnight representing the moment of complete annihilation of the human race, the clock was ceremonially and frighteningly set at seven minutes to midnight.

Since then, the Clock has been adjusted 18 times. In 1953, the year that both the US and Russia tested nuclear weapons, the Clock was set to just two minutes before midnight. This was the time period when people bought and installed bomb shelters in their backyards, to protect their families from what they thought was inevitable nuclear war. My parents grew up in that era, and remember being absolutely certain that they would not live to see middle age.

Ten years later, when the two superpowers agreed on limited nuclear test controls, the Doomsday Clock was rolled all the way back to 12 minutes before midnight, and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. In 1984, when the arms talks were deadlocked, it shot back up to three minutes before midnight. Up and down it has gone, with the last adjustment being made in January 2007. That was the year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decided that climate change was as dangerous to the human race as nuclear weapons. The Clock was moved two minutes closer to Doomsday.

Five days ago, in a New York City ceremony which cited a more “hopeful state of world affairs,” the Clock was moved one minute back.

It now stands at six minutes before midnight. I’m filing this under “good news,” because in 62 years we’ve managed not to annihilate ourselves. But we’ve also made a little less than zero overall progress. I’m not sure how to categorize that part.

Graph courtesy of the BBC. It does occur to me that it looks a bit like my investments over the last decade…

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