Just across the Midway, in a dilapidated former residential building that looks like a Cold War relic, the Doomsday Clock has inched to within five minutes of midnight.
Here, in the main offices of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock is a symbolic representation of the threat of humanity’s extinction by its own hands.
In press conferences held in Washington, D.C. and London on January 17, scientists announced that the minute hand would move two minutes closer to midnight due to the continued threat of nuclear annihilation and the emerging problem of climate change.
Mark Strauss, the editor of the Bulletin, said the most recent issue was devoted to questions that the magazine’s writers considered when deliberating the latest clock change. The result is a “gathering of the most brilliant minds in science and policy to highlight the critical issues confronting us today,” he said.
From now on, Strauss added, the Clock’s current position will appear in the lower left-hand corner of the magazine’s cover.
“IT IS 5 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT,” the cover now reads.
The Bulletin’s first issue was published in 1945, but the Doomsday Clock was not featured until 1947, when artist Martyl Langsdorf started using it as the cover design for each issue. Since then, the Doomsday Clock has symbolized the Bulletin’s aim of promoting awareness of the threat of nuclear war.
The minute hand was last moved in 2002, when it inched two minutes closer to midnight because of the recent terrorist attacks and the United States’ withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The treaty was a 30-year-old agreement that since 1972 promoted nuclear arms control between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.
The threat of nuclear annihilation seemed least likely in 1991, when the collapse of the USSR and Russia’s subsequent cooperation with the U.S. to cut nuclear stockpile levels pushed the indicator all the way to 17 minutes to midnight. Benedict said that although the Cold War ended peacefully, the Clock has moved closer to midnight because we have entered a “second nuclear age” where terrorists, rogue states, and America’s remaining stockpiles have increased the risk of nuclear devastation.
Benedict said America’s leftover arsenal, which totals 10,000 nuclear warheads, is unnecessary because the country’s former nuclear adversary, the USSR, is now defunct. She said the end of the Cold War has rendered such a massive stockpile obsolete and needlessly dangerous, in part because it sends the wrong message when the U.S. tries to convince other nations to abandon their weapons programs.
“We might destroy ourselves,” she said. “We’re not totally convinced that we’re gonna make it—but it’s doable.”