Scientists will announce whether they believe mankind is any closer to self-annihilation at the unveiling of the 2023 Doomsday Clock next week.
Last year, the clock remained at 100 seconds to midnight, where it has been since 2020, but tensions between Russia and Ukraine this year could edge the minute hand even closer to 12 o’clock.
The Doomsday Clock is a visual representation of just how close humanity is to destroying life as we know it, with midnight representing the eruption of a global catastrophe.
When the clock was first unveiled at the start of the Cold War in 1947, it was set at seven minutes to midnight. After the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1991 to cut down on nuclear weapons, the clock was pushed back to 17 minutes to midnight.
However, in recent years, the minute hand has been edging ever closer to midnight.
The catastrophic disruption of climate change was first considered as a deciding hand-setting factor in 2007, when the clock was moved form seven minutes to midnight to five minutes to midnight.
In 2018, the clock was set at two minutes to midnight, due to both nuclear risk and climate change, and in 2020 it was set 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been.
The clock has since stayed at this time.
The time on the clock is decided by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a Chicago-based group of experts in the fields of nuclear risk, climate change, disruptive technologies and bioterrorism.
The clock was last set on January 20, 2022, shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On March 7, 2022, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board condemned the invasion in a statement.
“For many years, we and others have warned that the most likely way nuclear weapons might be used is through an unwanted or unintended escalation from a conventional conflict,” they said. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought this nightmare scenario to life.”
At the time, the clock did not budge from 100 minutes to midnight, but ten months later, Putin is not shying away from his nuclear threats.
“This is not a bluff,” he said on September 21 last year, when announcing a partial mobilization of Russian soldiers. “And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weather vane can turn and point towards them.”
Reader of modern history at the University of Birmingham, Jonathan Gumz, previously told Newsweek that, although the world has been closer to a nuclear conflict in the past, Russia has created a nuclear “tripwire” in the form of statements made about the territories that they have taken in Ukraine.
“It makes you wonder what they would do if that tripwire was crossed,” he said.
“It seems to me that the bar has been lowered for nuclear weapons use by Russia, not just in its talk about using such weapons, but in the idea that it could use tactical nuclear weapons within Ukraine, which it could get away with and avoid a strategic nuclear exchange with the U.S.”
Whether this has impacted the Doomsday Clock remains to be seen. The announcement will be made at 10 a.m. EST on January 24.
Do you have a tip on a science story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about the Doomsday Clock? Let us know via email@example.com.
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