Twice a year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists evaluate the state of the world and decide how close humanity is to the apocalypse. They take into account nuclear risk, climate change, biological threats and other disruptive technologies capable of pushing the globe towards destruction.
The world received a two minute warning from the organization in 2018, and while it did make grown-ups feel as if they were in a kindergarten classroom, the threats behind the warning made grown-ups feel very grown-up indeed.
Since 2020, the clock has held at 100 seconds to midnight. Now, in 2023, the hands of the Doomsday Clock have been moved forward, positioned at 90 seconds to midnight.
According to the Bulletin, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “increased the risk of nuclear weapons use, raised the specter of biological and chemical weapons use, hamstrung the world’s response to climate change, and hampered international efforts to deal with other global concerns.”
What is the Doomsday Clock?
According to the Bulletin’s website, the clock is “many things all at once: It’s a metaphor, it’s a logo, it’s a brand, and it’s one of the most recognizable symbols in the past 100 years.” The metaphor is frightening — 90 seconds is easily conceptualized. In the time it takes to microwave a frozen burrito, our world could be ash.
The timeline has fluctuated between 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, to this year’s 90 seconds.
Is the Doomsday Clock valid?
The time element of the metaphor breaks down if you think too long about it.
Alternate units could have been easily chosen by the Bulletin’s board of sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates. The unit of time makes the Doomsday prediction feel fatalistic. Humanity can harness many things, but not time.
Still, respected researchers come together regularly to discuss real and potentially devastating realities, with the participation of world leaders. Is it a valid representation of our nearness to extinction? Not really, but as a logo, a metaphor, a coffee table book — it gets the point across.
So in the spirit of time’s elusive breath, sweeping the golden plains of civilization, touching each swaying soul impartially, here are five things you can do with your last minute and a half.
1. Steam racer
The speed record for a steam powered car, held by the three ton “Inspiration,” is 140 miles per hour. In 90 seconds, a driver can make it from Liberty Park to the Hogle Zoo, or a little less than four gloriously fast miles.
2. Remember, forget, remember
Walk into a room to get your keys (10 seconds), forget what you went into the room for (20 seconds), leave the room (10 seconds), ask your housemate what you were looking for (10 seconds), wait for them to remember (20 seconds), be reminded about your keys (10 seconds), and walk into that room again to fetch your keys (10 seconds). While reaching for said keys ... boom! Biological warfare ensues.
3. Ruin a family holiday
It only takes a few seconds to ruin a holiday, so ostensibly you are able to ruin a number of holidays before the world ends. Picture this: your clan is playing spades, you destroy them at spades, you inform them of your dominance (and how easily it was achieved), you take their cards and nibble the edges to demonstrate that the game is now over.
In under thirty seconds, your loved ones will refuse to play spades ever again. Not the end of the world, but disappointing because its the only card game you’ve ever bothered to learn.
4. Reconcile with your family
My mother always told me, “Building trust takes years, losing it takes seconds.” 90 seconds is not enough time to reconcile with your family, but in the event the apocalypse doesn’t happen, making amends can’t hurt. Send a text in the group chain: “I’m sorry for the spades game lol.” If you want to hurry things along, just pretend they have replied, and text back: “Thank you for the kind words, I’m so happy to be back in everyone’s good graces.”
You have taken some short cuts, but effectively reconciled with your estranged family in less than two minutes.
5. Walk down memory lane
All the joys you have stored away in your heart, the clean scent of grass and water, Mr. Rogers putting his sweater in the closet. Remember those things, and maybe the bad things too, like when you threw a plastic water bottle out your car window in the dead of night, or when you helped develop nuclear arms for an unstable authoritarian state. All the little actions in your life that contributed to the ticking of the Doomsday Clock.
The Bulletin scientists put it best when they said “The doorstep of doom is no place to loiter.” Here we are, possibly rubbing our shoes on the welcome mat of self annihilation. What can we do with this information? The Bulletin suggests we should share this knowledge with others, and tell government representatives how you feel. The rest is a matter of time.