Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight as world faces ‘dangerous moment’

Climate threats among reasons time is set at its closest-ever point to global catastrophe

While the past year offered glimmers of hope that humankind might reverse its march toward global catastrophe, the Doomsday Clock was set on Thursday at just 100 seconds to midnight, matching the time for 2021 and 2020 – the closest point to extinction at which the clock has ever been set.

The time was set at that point based on continuing and dangerous threats posed by nuclear weapons; climate change; disruptive technologies, and Covid-19.

All of these factors were exacerbated by “a corrupted information ecosphere that undermines rational decision-making”, the scientists who set the time have concluded.

On the 75th anniversary of its Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is asking people to help #TurnBackTheClock. The challenge encourages people to use social media to share stories about “actions that inspire them and strategies of how we can work together to save the world”.


The clock’s time is set by the organisation’s Science and Security Board (SASB) with the support of other experts, including 11 Nobel laureates.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’s Doomsday Clock statement on Thursday explains that the “decision does not, by any means, suggest that the international security situation has stabilised. On the contrary, the clock remains the closest it has ever been to civilisation-ending apocalypse because the world remains stuck in an extremely dangerous moment.”

For 75 years, the clock has been drawing attention to risks to human existence by representing the likelihood of global catastrophe, the latter event being taken as midnight. Albert Einstein and colleagues from the University of Chicago who were involved in the Manhattan Project were the main drivers behind the initiative, which in its initial decades primarily focused on the nuclear threat.

It is not literally a clock but a graphic image of one, and is considered a potent symbol for scientific watchdogs and activists. Designed by painter Martyl Langsdorf, it became, according to the Bulletin, “a symbol of danger, of hope, of caution, and of our responsibility to one another”.

‘Work to be done’

Dr Rachel Bronson of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said: "The Doomsday Clock continues to hover dangerously, reminding us about how much work is needed to be done to ensure a safer and healthier planet. We must continue to push the hands of the clock away from midnight."

SASB co-chair Prof Sharon Squassoni said the time indicates humanity is "stuck in a perilous moment – one that brings neither stability nor security. Positive developments in 2021 failed to counteract negative, long-term trends."

SASB member Dr Asha M George of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefence warned: "We can no longer afford to focus all of our efforts on other perils to the exclusion of the biological threat. If we do, diseases and the lives they take will push the second hand on the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight."

Referring to the US, Herb Lin, a senior research scholar for cyberpolicy and an SASB member, said: "Technology has contributed mightily to an environment in which no conceivable evidence or rational argument can persuade true believers to change their minds, and the resulting fractures in our common understanding of what is true translate into a nation sharply divided against itself."

SASB member and climate scientist Prof Raymond Pierrehumbert, who is based at Oxford University, said the experience of a deepening global warming crisis has animated protests and other civil society expressions of alarm in the past year, against a backdrop of "a staggering onslaught of climate disasters".

“These actions focus public attention on climate change and raise its political salience, but whether they will transform policies, investments, and behaviours remains among the most important questions facing global society,” he believed.

Nuclear limits

In response to global threats, the 2022 Doomsday Clock statement recommends the Russian and US presidents identify more ambitious and comprehensive limits on nuclear weaponsby the end of 2022. “They should both agree to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons by limiting their roles, missions, and platforms, and decrease budgets accordingly,” it adds.

US relations with Russia and China remain tense, it notes, with all three countries engaged in an array of nuclear modernisation and expansion efforts – "including China's apparent large-scale programme to increase its deployment of silo-based long-range nuclear missiles; the push by Russia, China, and the US to develop hypersonic missiles, and the continued testing of anti-satellite weapons by many nations".

If not restrained, these efforts could mark the start of a dangerous new nuclear arms race, it warns.

The US and other countries should accelerate their decarbonisation, matching policies to commitments, the statement says, adding that China should set an example by pursuing sustainable development pathways – not fossil-fuel-intensive projects.

Related to Covid-19, the statement says US and other leaders should work through the WHO and other international institutions to reduce biological risks of all kinds through better monitoring of animal-human interactions, improvements in international disease surveillance and reporting, increased production and distribution of medical supplies, and expanded hospital capacity.

Climate action

The world’s wealthier countries need to provide more financial support and technology co-operation to developing countries for climate action, it recommends.

Governments, technology firms, academic experts, and media organisations need to co-operate to identify and implement practical and ethical ways to combat internet-enabled misinformation and disinformation, the statement underlines.

Highlighting internet-based disinformation that "infected America" during the 2020 US presidential election, it concludes that this "persuaded a significant portion of the US public to believe the utterly false narrative contending that Joe Biden did not win the US election".

“Continued efforts to foster this narrative threaten to undermine future US elections, American democracy in general, and, therefore, the United States’s ability to lead global efforts to manage existential risk,” it suggests.

The furthest away from midnight the clock has ever been was 17 minutes before midnight at the end of the cold war, but since then it has been edging towards the extinction point. The existential threat of climate change was formally made a contributory factor in 2007.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times